Senate panel rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps, advances defense bill that backfills wall money

Senate panel rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps, advances defense bill that backfills wall money
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The Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' MORE’s plan to place nearly $100 billion in a war fund in an effort to avoid budget caps, the panel announced Thursday.

But the committee’s $750 billion fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), advanced in a 25-2 closed-door vote Wednesday, does support another controversial Trump budget maneuver: backfilling the military construction money that will be used to build a border wall.

“In an increasingly dangerous world, Congress must show strong, decisive leadership to preserve peace through strength and protect freedom-loving Americans,” Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Senate votes for North Macedonia to join NATO McConnell introduces resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria decision MORE (R-Okla.) said in a statement. “This year’s National Defense Authorization Act keeps us on the course started last year—continuing implementation of the National Defense Strategy, restoring our combat advantage and supporting our warfighters.”


The $750 billion total is in line the Trump administration’s Pentagon budget request for fiscal 2020, but breaks with the administration in how it’s allocated.

The administration had requested $164 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The OCO is not subject to budget caps, and the administration hoped to use the account to raise defense spending without having to reach a deal to raise nondefense spending as well.

But lawmakers in both parties rejected that as a gimmick that doesn’t provide the military the budget stability it needs.

As such, the committee’s NDAA would authorize $75.9 billion for OCO, according to the summary released Thursday. In the base budget, there would be $642.5 billion for the Pentagon and $23.2 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy.

“I applaud the chairman’s decision to move funds from the administration’s OCO request to the base for a more realistic and sustainable spending plan,” Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington MORE (D-R.I.), the committee’s top Democrat, said at a news conference. “Obviously, to carry out this plan, we need a prompt budget agreement to deal with the [Budget Control Act] caps and provide certainty, particularly to the Department of Defense.”

The administration also requested $3.6 billion to replace money Trump plans to take from the military construction account as part of his national emergency declaration to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Additionally, the administration requested an extra $3.6 billion for additional construction on the southern border.

The committee’s NDAA includes the requested $3.6 billion to replenish the military construction account, according to the summary. But it does not include the additional $3.6 billion for further construction, a senior committee aide said.

Reed, who opposes using military money on the wall, predicted the issue will continue to be a fight as the bill advances to the Senate floor.

“I anticipate there will be continued efforts on the floor to redirect these funds to their authorized uses,” Reed said.

The bill also includes $3.31 billion for disaster recovery at Navy, Air Force and Army National Guard installations in Nebraska, North Carolina and Florida, the summary says.

The $750 billion would also go toward a slew of hardware, including $10 billion for 94 F-35 fighter jets, 16 more than the administration requested, according to the summary.

The bill would also authorize $948 million for eight F-15X aircraft, or $162 million less than the administration requested, the summary said.

For the Navy, the bill includes $24.1 billion for 12 new ships, according to the summary.

The bill would also authorize a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops. It also follows the administration’s requested active-duty end strength for the services: 480,000 soldiers, 340,500 sailors, 186,200 Marines and 332,800 airmen.