House stopgap spending bill includes $1.6B for Columbia-class subs

The Navy would be allowed to buy the first two Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines under a stopgap government funding measure released by House Democrats on Monday.

Typically, stopgap spending bills known as continuing resolutions (CR) bar any changes to existing funding, including preventing new purchases.

But the CR released Monday would set aside $1.6 billion so the Navy “may enter into a contract, beginning with fiscal year 2021, for the procurement of up to two Columbia class submarines.” It also grants the Navy authority to incrementally fund the subs.

The bill would keep the government funded through Dec. 11, averting a government shutdown at the end of this month.

But it’s unclear if it will be signed into law as-is because it excludes aid for farmers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a provision sought by the White House and Senate Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) almost immediately slammed House Democrats for “shamefully” leaving out the aid.

The authority to buy two Columbia-class nuclear-power subs was sought by the White House as part of a slew of so-called anomalies to the CR it requested.

A document sent to Congress argued that without an anomaly for the Columbia-class subs, the Navy “would be unable to begin design and construction activities for these ships, and the Navy would be unable to meet U.S. Strategic Command requirements.”

Pentagon officials also said at a Senate hearing last week they had no wiggle room on the timeline for the Columbia-class program, which is replacing the aging Ohio-class submarines.

“We have zero margin on the Columbia, and I would strongly support an anomaly,” Ellen Lord, under secretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We need to get the funding. We need to continue the work we’re doing.”

The CR would also extend an authority that was granted in the coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act that allows the Pentagon to reimburse contractors for delays and other added costs due to the pandemic.

The authority is set to expire next week, but would be extended for the length of the CR through Dec. 11.

The bill, however, does not include two other defense-related exceptions the White House requested: flexibility for Space Force funding and authority to start work on the submarine-launched W93 nuclear warhead.

The administration asked Congress to create new accounts specifically for the Space Force rather than keeping the money in the Air Force as it is now, arguing that keeping the money in the latter branch during the course of the CR would create unnecessary red tape.

The administration also asked for the authority for the National Nuclear Security Administration to start work on the W93, poised to be the United States’s first new nuclear warhead design in decades, arguing a delay could harm U.S. coordination with international partners.

Tags Columbia-class submarine Continuing resolution CR Mitch McConnell nuclear subs Submarine

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