House panel approves $25B boost for defense budget

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The House Armed Services Committee voted Wednesday to add nearly $25 billion to President Biden’s proposed defense budget as more than a dozen Democrats sided with Republicans on bulking up Pentagon funding.

The committee voted 42-17 on an amendment from Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the panel, to set the fiscal 2022 defense budget at $778 billion — $37 billion more than approved for this year and $25 billion more than Biden asked for next year.

“Most importantly, this amendment ensures we have the resources to counter the growing threat from China and other adversaries,” Rogers said at the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) markup.

The bulk of the funding in the amendment, $9.8 billion, would go toward procurement, including $4.7 billion more for shipbuilding, $1.7 billion for aircraft and $878 million for combat vehicles.

With the Armed Services Committee split between 31 Democrats and 28 Republicans, the GOP needed just two Democrats to side with them to be successful. In the end, 14 Democrats — including some members with national security backgrounds or in vulnerable districts — agreed with Republicans on the increase.

“Today we need to put forward an authorization that projects strength, is forward thinking, and treats our service members with dignity and respect,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said. “The president’s budget, I have been saying ever since it was released, that it does not do enough. We needed 3 to 5 percent real growth.”

In addition to Luria, Democratic Reps. Jim Langevin (R.I.), Joe Courtney (Conn.), Seth Moulton (Mass.), Anthony Brown (Md.), Filemon Vela (Texas), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.), Jared Golden (Maine), Kaiali’i Kahele (Hawaii), Marc Veasey (Texas), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Steven Horsford (Nev.), Salud Carbajal (Calif.) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.) supported the amendment.

The debate over the defense budget has been percolating since Biden released his budget in May, but Wednesday’s markup took place amid the backdrop of the chaotic exit from Afghanistan that included the deaths of 13 U.S. service members. Republicans have said they are planning dozens of amendments related to Afghanistan that are expected to be debated later Wednesday.

Many lawmakers focused on threats emerging from several countries heading into Wednesday’s vote, and Republicans had already been complaining for months that Biden’s defense budget request was inadequate in the face of threats from China and Russia.

Biden’s $753 billion defense budget represented a slight bump from the Trump administration’s last defense budget of $740 billion.

But Republicans argued that when accounting for inflation, the proposal would actually be a cut compared with last year. Instead, they have been pushing for a 3 to 5 percent increase above inflation.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) opposed Rogers’s amendment, arguing that the “single most important thing that the Defense Department needs to do right now is spend its money wisely.”

“If we give them another $23.9 billion, it takes the pressure off,” Smith said. “Item after item after item, we have spent billions of dollars without getting anything for that money we have spent. That does not make us safer,” he added. 

The House Armed Services Committee’s vote followed the Senate Armed Services Committee similarly approving a $25 billion increase in July.

The NDAA is a policy bill, not a spending bill, meaning even if the final product has a top line of $778 billion, a separate appropriations bill with a matching dollar figure would also have to pass for the increase to become a reality.

Still, both the House and Senate Armed Services committees approving the larger dollar figure sets a benchmark for congressional budget talks going forward. And the NDAA and defense appropriations bills typically need Republican votes to pass with progressives routinely voting against them.

But progressives, who griped that Biden’s request was too large in the face of pressing domestic spending needs, are fuming now that some of their fellow Democrats sided with Republicans.

“I don’t understand why we need, at a time when we are withdrawing from Afghanistan, when we have been withdrawing from Iraq, a budget that is higher than at the height of the Cold War,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said.

“The Democrats right now have the presidency. We have the Senate. We have the House of Representatives. And you’re telling me, our party, when we have both chambers and the president, are going to succumb to a Republican addition to the defense budget?” he added.

Tags Adam Smith Afghanistan withdrawal Anthony Brown Elaine Luria Elissa Slotkin Filemon Vela Jim Langevin Joe Biden Joe Courtney Marc Veasey Mike Rogers Mikie Sherrill Ro Khanna Salud Carbajal Seth Moulton Stephanie Murphy Steven Horsford

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