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Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has $10.5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements

Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has $10.5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements
© Greg Nash

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: The massive stimulus package Senate leaders and the White House agreed to while you were sleeping has $10.5 billion to help the Pentagon fight the coronavirus.

Of note, the bill would prohibit the Pentagon from shifting that money to a counter-drug account it has been using to fund President TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE's southern border wall.

According to bill text released by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill would allow the Pentagon to transfer the coronavirus funds to other accounts "except for 'Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities, Defense.'"

A Democratic summary of the bill described the language as intended to "prevent funds in this title from being diverted to build a wall on the southern border."

Earlier this year, the Pentagon transferred $3.8 billion from various weapons programs to the counter-drug fund to use to build the border wall.

That's on top of $2.5 billion from counter-drug funds and $3.6 billion in military construction funds the Pentagon tapped last year to build the wall.

What the money buys: The stimulus deal's $10.5 billion for the Pentagon includes $1.5 billion for the National Guard and $713.6 million for operations including the hospital ship deployments.

The bill would also provide $1 billion for the Defense Production Act, a wartime authority lawmakers have been urging Trump to use to ramp up production of coronavirus tests, ventilators, masks and other critical supplies.

The stimulus package would provide $3.8 billion for defense health programs, including $3.4 billion to buy more equipment to treat patients and physical protective equipment for medical personnel and disease response, to expand the capacity of military treatment facilities and to buy expeditionary hospital packages.

The other $415 million for defense health programs would go toward research and development into vaccines and antivirals to use against the coronavirus.

But…: The Senate still has not voted on the bill after last-minute complaints tripped it up.

A brewing fight over a deal on unemployment provisions is threatening to open the door to a push for broader changes to the bill, which was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Overnight Health Care: Medicaid enrollment reaches new high | White House gives allocation plan for 55M doses | Schumer backs dental, vision, hearing in Medicare Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, warned that unless a group of GOP senators back down from their demand for changes to the unemployment insurance benefits, he would slow walk the bill until stronger guardrails were put on hundreds of billions in funding for corporations. 

"In my view, it would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive the emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation," Sanders said in a statement.

"Unless these Republican senators drop their objection, I am prepared to put a hold on this bill until stronger conditions are imposed on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund to make sure that any corporation receiving financial assistance under this legislation does not lay off workers, cut wages or benefits, ship jobs overseas or pay workers poverty wages," Sanders continued.

Putting a "hold" on a bill would force McConnell to go through days of procedural loopholes that could delay the bill into the weekend or even early next week. 

Sanders's decision comes after Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-S.C.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Kerry Washington backs For the People Act: 'Black and Brown voters are being specifically targeted' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain MORE (R-S.C.) and Ben SasseBen SasseGOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Pence: Trump and I may never 'see eye to eye' on events of Jan. 6 White House: Biden will not appoint presidential Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-Neb.) raised concerns that the deal on unemployment benefits would "incentivize" individuals not to return to working.

Pentagon tightens anti-coronavirus restrictions: Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military: 'We are not weak' Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military MORE has ordered a stop to all troop movement overseas for 60 days to attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the military, he told Reuters.

The stop movement order will apply to all U.S. forces, civilian personnel and families -- including those scheduled to return stateside and those scheduled to deploy -- with some exceptions, Esper said. 

The drawdown underway in Afghanistan will continue, he said.

To slow the coronavirus' spread in its ranks, the Defense Department also on Wednesday raised the military's health protection level to its second-highest setting for all military installations globally.

The designation of Health Protection Condition (HPCON) Charlie will increase the number of employees teleworking, cancel large-scale meetings and require temperatures to be taken at entrances to some buildings on military installations, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah told reporters.

She added that the measures will vary across facilities. 

Wednesday's numbers: As of Wednesday morning, 227 service members, 81 civilians, 67 dependents and 40 contractors have tested positive for the virus.

Twelve troops are hospitalized and 19 have recovered. Six civilians, two dependents and two contractors are also hospitalized, while one civilian has also recovered.

Deaths still stand at the one contractor who died Saturday.

When will it end?: Trump has said he wants the economy to reopen by Easter, April 12, though public health experts do not even expect the country to have reached the peak of the outbreak by then.

On Wednesday, the Joint Staff's top medical adviser warned against making predictions beyond three weeks.

"Everybody keeps asking 'what's gonna happen in two weeks, what's gonna happen in three weeks?' We don't know," Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff Surgeon, said when asked about Trump's push.

"I just got an update on modeling factors which very clearly said that they are unable to forecast beyond three weeks from the data that they had what is likely to happen because we are getting so much data, and it is changing so quickly," he added later.

Asked if he had seen any medical data that supports a move to pull back distancing restrictions by Easter, Friedrichs would only say that such actions in the military are "a balancing act."

"At the end of the day we have to balance both the health and protection of our service members with our responsibility to this nation to continue to defend it."

Hearings in the time of coronavirus: The Senate Armed Services Committee is switching to what it's calling "paper hearings" in order to follow guidance on preventing the spread of the coronavirus while it tries to keep the annual defense policy bill on track.

"While the committee is committed to continuing congressional oversight and data collection necessary to drafting the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to protect the health of everyone involved, traditional hearings are not possible under current conditions," the committee said in a statement Wednesday.

Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Biden participates in NATO summit | White House backs 2002 AUMF repeal | Top general says no plans for airstrikes to help Afghan forces after withdrawal Top Republican proposes leaving 1,000 US troops in Afghanistan into next year The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Citizens' Climate Lobby - Biden floats infrastructure, tax concessions to GOP MORE (R-Okla.) has previously laid out a schedule for the NDAA that would see the committee considering the bill in May and the full Senate voting on it in June.

The committee has a hearing scheduled for Thursday with the secretary and chief of staff of the Army. That hearing will now be conducted in the new "paper hearing" format, the committee said Wednesday.

For the paper hearings, witness testimony and opening statements from Inhofe and the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOur new praetorian guard? Progressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Gillibrand: Military must make changes beyond sexual assault cases MORE (R.I.), will be publicly released at the hearing's scheduled start time.

Committee members will submit questions that will be sent to the Pentagon at the scheduled start time. The panel will release the questions and answers within a week, though Wednesday's statement warned the committee "may exercise discretion and flexibility to ensure the Department of Defense is able to fulfill mission-critical duties, especially those related to COVID-19 response and national security."

Do you need some good news?: The Hill has been keeping track of how Americans are helping each other through the coronavirus pandemic.

If you need your faith in humanity restored, take a look here.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US asking allies for extra stockpiles to help fight coronavirus

-- The Hill: G-20 to hold emergency virtual summit on coronavirus response

-- The Hill: Opinion: COVID-19 is attacking our defense supply chains and our nation's security

-- Associated Press: Survivors of world conflicts offer perspective amid pandemic

-- Stars and Stripes: US military issues final furlough notices to nearly half its South Korean workforce, union says

-- Bloomberg: Unclogging toilets at $400,000 a flush hits Navy's costs