House panel approves defense bill with border wall limits, Confederate base provision
A House committee has approved a $694.6 billion defense spending bill that includes money for the Army to change Confederate base names and that seeks to block President Trump’s use of Pentagon funds for his border wall.
The House Appropriations Committee advanced its fiscal year 2021 defense spending bill in a party-line vote of 30-22 on Tuesday.
The Pentagon spending bill would cover $626.2 billion in base budget funding and $68.4 billion in a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
The money would go toward a 3 percent pay raise for troops, 91 F-35 fighter jets, nine new Navy ships and $758 million to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on subcontractors in the defense industrial base, among other big-ticket items.
Republicans, who say the bill includes much they support that would protect the United States, took issue with several provisions aimed at stopping Trump from using Pentagon funding for the border wall.
“While this is a very strong bill, there are numerous provisions, like the prohibition on funding for the southwest border wall construction and limitations on DoD’s general and special transfer authorities, that will draw a veto threat from the administration,” said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel.
The bill would broadly prohibit the use of Pentagon funding for a barrier on the southern border, as well as cap the amount of money the Pentagon can transfer between accounts at $1.9 billion.
It would also require the Pentagon to put back into its original accounts money it shuffled around for the wall earlier this year.
Democrats argued the provisions are necessary after the Pentagon eroded Congress’ trust by transferring money for wall construction without congressional approval.
Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said the Pentagon’s actions have “irreparably harmed the department’s credibility with the committee.”
“The sense of entitlement in these actions is galling, and I hope that at some point the department will have the leadership in place who recognize Congress’ constitutional prerogative and restore trust to the appropriations process,” Visclosky added.
An amendment offered Tuesday by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) to take out the prohibition on border wall funding, as well as a ban on troop deployments to the border unless another government agency reimburses the Pentagon, failed 21-31. Rep. Will Hurd (Texas), who is retiring after his current term, was the only Republican “no” vote.
Also in this year’s defense spending bill is $1 million set aside in the Army’s operations and maintenance account to pay to change the names of bases and other property with Confederate monikers.
The Army has 10 bases named after Confederate military officers. The issue of renaming them has emerged as a battle between Congress and Trump after the president publicly rebuked the Army for considering doing so and threatened to veto the defense policy bill if it includes a renaming requirement.
At Tuesday’s markup, the Appropriations Committee also approved amendments from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF). The panel also approved an amendment from Lee to block funding for military action against Iran.
The committee has approved Lee’s repeal of the 2001 AUMF in other recent years, but the amendment has not survived negotiations to make it into final spending bills signed into law.