House panel releases $706B Pentagon spending bill

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House Democrats on Tuesday released a $706 billion Pentagon funding bill, hewing closely to the top-line amount requested by President Biden for fiscal 2022.

“Democrats have landed on a responsible funding level for the Department of Defense that maintains a strong national security posture today, while making important investments in modernization that will make us even stronger in the years to come,” House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chair Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) said in a statement Tuesday unveiling the bill.

Last month, the Biden administration requested a total of $753 billion for defense programs for fiscal 2022, including $715 billion for the Pentagon.

The number was panned by Republicans, who argued it is too small to meet challenges posed by China, as well as by progressive Democrats who argued it is too large in the face of pressing domestic needs and nonmilitary threats such as pandemics.

Still, moderate Democrats have backed Biden’s request, with Blue Dog Coalition leadership telling appropriators and authorizers in a letter last week they “strongly support the robust defense funding level included in the president’s budget request.”

When combined with $11 billion from a separate military construction bill, the House Appropriations Committee does not stray too far from the amount Biden requested in the Pentagon spending bill released Tuesday.

Still, the bill includes several policy riders that could entice liberals into supporting the bill.

Among them, the bill seeks to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility by prohibiting funds from being used to operate the infamous prison after Sept. 30, 2022.

The bill would also block funds from being used to support or facilitate offensive military operations conducted by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against the Houthis in the war in Yemen.

On funding, the bill matches Biden’s request for 85 F-35 fighter jets, the first time in years appropriators are not proposing to buy more F-35s than requested.

It would also fund eight new Navy ships. But unlike the budget request, the bill would fund two Aegis guided missile destroyers, not one. The other ships would be two Virginia-class attack submarines, one frigate, one John Lewis-class refueler, one towing, salvage and rescue ship, and one T-AGOS(X) auxiliary general ocean surveillance ship.

The bill would fund a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops, in line with Biden’s request and the federal formula for setting a minimum annual pay raise for the military.

The bill also matches Biden’s request for an end-strength of 1,346,400 troops, a decrease of 1,975 troops from this year.

In one departure from the request, the bill would eliminate funding for the Navy’s proposed new nuclear-armed sea-launch cruise missile. The budget request included $15 million to begin research and development, but the program has been a prime target for Democrats seeking to trim the nuclear budget.

Still, the bill would provide funding for other nuclear programs often targeted by Democrats, including $2.5 billion for the intercontinental ballistic missile replace program called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent and $581 million for the nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile called the Long Range Standoff Weapon.

The bill would also provide $25 million for the Defense Department to transport Afghans who helped U.S. troops during the 20-year war to a safe location, an issue that has become a prime focus of lawmakers in both parties amid the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Biden administration has said it will evacuate some Afghans who help U.S. troops, but has not provided a detailed plan, including cost and whether military or contractor aircraft will be used.

The defense appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to consider the bill behind closed doors Wednesday morning.

Tags Betty McCollum Defense funding Joe Biden John Lewis Pentagon
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