Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Pentagon to get $696B in year-end funding deal | House preps for Dec. 28 veto override on defense bill if necessary | Nuclear-powered sub sails through Strait of Hormuz

Greg Nash

Happy Monday 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, $2.3 trillion government funding and coronavirus relief deal was released Monday afternoon. And in just a few hours, Congress is expected to vote on the 5,593-page bill.

The package includes $1.2 trillion to fund the government through fiscal year 2021 and $900 billion for COVID-19 relief.

Several other bills, such as a bipartisan agreement on surprise medical billing and energy legislation that would restrict the use of hydrofluorocarbons, are also hitching a ride on the last legislative vehicle of the year.

What’s in for defense: The coronavirus relief portion of the bill includes an extension of an authority first approved in March that allows the Pentagon to reimburse contractors for delays and other added costs due to the pandemic. Section 3610, as the authority is known, would be extended through March.

The government funding portion includes $696 billion for the Pentagon as part of the total $740.5 billion for defense, which also includes non-Pentagon programs such as the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.

The Pentagon funding is broken down into $627.3 billion in the base budget and $68.7 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

Funding would go toward a 3 percent pay raise for troops.

The bill would also buy 96 new F-35 fighter jets, or 17 more than requested by the administration.

The bill includes $23.3 billion to buy 10 new Navy ships, including two Virginia-class submarines. The administration’s original request only asked for one Virginia-class sub to the consternation of lawmakers, though the administration asked for a second one last month.

What’s out: The funding deal eschews several controversial policy issues that were addressed in the initial House-passed version of the fiscal 2021 Pentagon spending bill, reflecting the Senate version of the spending bill released in November but never voted on separately.

Among the provisions dropped from the deal were ones to block the use of Pentagon funding for a barrier on the southern border, repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force, block funding for military action against Iran and bar funding from being used to implement the Pentagon’s ban on transgender troops.

Also gone from the deal is $1 million that was set aside in the House bill for the Army to rename military bases named for Confederates. Still, the defense policy bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress earlier this month that Trump is threatening to veto requires the names to be changed.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Congress might not be done with its work this year quite yet.

If Trump follows through on his threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the House is planning to take an override vote Dec. 28, setting up a rare session between Christmas and New Year’s.

The House set the date Monday as part of a rule governing floor debate of a separate unrelated bill.

Calendar crunch: The unusual post-Christmas session would be necessary to meet a deadline to override Trump by noon Jan. 3, when the 117th Congress starts. If Congress fails to override the veto by then, lawmakers would need to start from scratch on the bill, and it would be the first time in 60 years the bill does not become law.

The House, which has to vote on the override first because it initially passed the bill, would need to send the veto message to the Senate by Dec. 29 to overcome any procedural hurdles in the upper chamber and finish by Jan. 3, a Democratic House aide told The Hill.

Senators opposed to overriding Trump’s veto could drag out procedural hurdles by forcing a cloture vote, requiring the override effort to initially get 60 votes, according to the Congressional Research Service. To ultimately override the veto in the Senate will also require two-thirds support.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who briefly held up passage of the NDAA earlier this month, indicated Monday he could similarly delay an override vote.

“I very much am opposed to the Afghan war, and I’ve told them I’ll come back to try to prevent them from easily overriding the president’s veto,” Paul told reporters. 

Related: Over the weekend, we took a more in depth look at how Congress was barreling toward a veto clash with Trump. Catch up on that here.

SUB MESSAGE TO IRAN: The Navy does not typically disclose the whereabouts of U.S. submarines.

So it was notable Monday when it put out a press release announcing that a U.S. guided-missile submarine sailed through the Strait of Hormuz earlier in the day in what’s being seen as a message to Iran.

The USS Georgia nuclear-powered submarine, along with guided-missile cruisers USS Port Royal and USS Philippine Sea, entered the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, according to a news release from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

“Georgia’s presence in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations (AOO) demonstrates the U.S. Navy’s ability to sail and operate wherever international law allows,” the release said.

“As an inherently flexible maneuver force, capable of supporting routine and contingency operations, Georgia’s presence demonstrates the United States’ commitment to regional partners and maritime security with a full spectrum of capabilities to remain ready to defend against any threat at any time,” it added.

The release also made sure to tout the sub’s capabilities, including being able to “carry up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles” and “be configured to host up to 66 Special Operations Forces.”

Timing: Monday’s announcement comes as U.S. officials are on alert for heightened tensions in the Middle East surrounding the upcoming anniversary of the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Soleimani was killed Jan. 3 by a U.S. drone strike while he was in Iraq. U.S. officials have expressed concern that Iran or its proxies could further retaliate for the killing near its anniversary.

“We are prepared to defend ourselves, our friends and partners in the region, and we’re prepared to react, if necessary,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters recently when asked about the possibility of Iranian action on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death.


The Atlantic Council will hold an online event on “Putin’s playbook: Lessons from the operation to kill Alexei Navalny” at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3haRs6s


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