House panel advances $706B Pentagon bill on party-line vote
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday advanced a $706 billion Pentagon spending bill on a party-line vote.
The panel voted 33-23 to approve the fiscal year 2022 defense spending bill, setting the stage for a fight on the House floor over the Pentagon budget.
When combined with a separate military construction spending bill, the committee’s bill closely follows President Biden’s request for a $715 billion Defense Department budget next year.
Republican opposition to the bill was unsurprising after weeks of GOP lawmakers panning Biden’s request as too small amid growing threats from China. Republicans have instead been pushing for a 3 to 5 percent bump over inflation compared to this year’s defense budget.
“Due to the arbitrary top line funding level, this bill takes from today in the hope that our investment will outpace our adversaries in the 2030 time frame,” said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. “That’s fine if our adversaries agree not to go to war until 2030, which they have not, nor are they pausing on development as they aggressively invest in more lethal capabilities.”
But Republicans unifying against the bill could make it difficult for Democrats to pass a defense budget as progressives have been arguing the proposed funding amount is too large in the face of pressing domestic needs and nonmilitary threats such as pandemics.
Progressives on the Appropriations Committee voted to advance the bill Tuesday, but stressed they were only doing so to allow for a floor debate as they continued to rail against the price tag.
“We just spend too much on what is defined as traditional defense, and many of us in the country and many of us in Congress would like to redefine defense,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). “What’s actually in the defense of this country? It’s not in defense contractors, but it’s things like pandemics and climate change and other items.”
While progressives are balking at the topline dollar amount, the bill also includes several policy riders that could entice liberals into supporting it.
Among those provisions, 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.
In a 26-31 vote Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee also rejected an amendment from Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) to add language blocking transfers from Guantanamo to facilities in the United States, a provision that has been law for years but was dropped from the panel’s bill this year. Two Democrats, Reps. Charlie Crist (Fla.) and Henry Cueller (Texas), supported the amendment.
Meanwhile, the panel approved in voice votes a pair of amendments from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force.
The legislation 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.
And it would require for-profit contractors to pay their workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
While the House Appropriations Committee is following Biden’s top-line request, it has tweaked some of the details.
The committee’s bill would fund eight new Navy ships — the same total number requested by the administration — but it would fund two Aegis guided missile destroyers instead of one and one towing, salvage and rescue ship instead of two.
The bill would also add $1.7 billion to Biden’s request for procurement — for a total of $134.3 billion — but cut $1.6 billion from his request for research and development — for a total of $110.4 billion.
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. But the bill would also fund 12 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft at $977 million when the administration asked for none.
The measure would scrap funding for the the Navy’s proposed new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile, but it follows the administration’s request for other nuclear programs that are often targeted by Democrats: $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 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.
It also matches Biden’s request for an end-strength of 1,346,400 active-duty troops, a decrease of 1,975 troops from this year.
The legislation 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.