Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Senate panel adds $25B to Biden's defense budget | House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US | Pentagon confirms 7 Colombians arrested in Haiti leader's killing had US training

Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, 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 Senate Armed Services Committee has approved a $778 billion defense policy bill, adding nearly $25 billion more to the defense budget than the Biden administration requested.

The funding boost would go entirely to the Pentagon, giving the department $740.3 billion compared to the Biden administration's request for $715 billion.

The remainder of the budget goes to non-Pentagon defense programs, such as the Energy Department's nuclear weapons programs.

Closed door approval: The increase was approved as a Republican-proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that received bipartisan support when the committee met behind closed doors to consider the bill Wednesday night. 

Overall, the NDAA cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee in a 23-3 vote, the panel said Thursday.

The Republicans' argument: Republicans had been complaining for months that President 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 to last year. Instead, they have been pushing for a 3 to 5 percent increase above inflation.

Not yet reality: With the Senate Armed Services Committee evenly split between the parties, Republicans needed just one Democrat to side with them to approve the funding boost.

And with the Senate split 50-50, Democrats are also likely to need Republicans to pass the defense bill, which progressives routinely oppose.

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

Complications: Still, the Senate Armed Services Committee's move complicates congressional talks over the defense budget and is sure to infuriate progressive Democrats, who have been pushing for a 10 percent cut to the defense budget.

 

More stories on the bill from The Hill:

-- Senate panel votes to make women register for draft

-- Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance

  

HOUSE PASSES BILL TO STREAMLINE VISA PROCESS FOR AFGHANS

The House approved a bill Thursday aimed at expediting visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. military and are facing threats to their lives as the Pentagon nears the end of its withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years.

The bill passed 407-16, with the "no" votes coming entirely from Republicans.

What the legislation does: The bill, dubbed the Allies Act, would add another 8,000 visas to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Afghans who helped the United States and remove several hurdles to obtaining the visas.

"Those Afghans knew the risk that their service posed to them and their families, and yet they signed up to help because they believed that we would have their back," said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), the lead sponsor of the bill. "They have earned a path to safety."

Some context: The bill comes as the Biden administration has faced mounting pressure from lawmakers in both parties and advocates to more quickly process SIV applications and evacuate applicants while they complete a process that can take years and leave them vulnerable to the Taliban while they wait.

On Monday, the administration announced it would evacuate an initial batch of 2,500 SIV applicants and their families to Fort Lee, Va. The applicants have already undergone security screening and are considered to be in the final stages of the application process, so are only expected to stay at Fort Lee for approximately a week.

The administration is also working on finding an overseas location to evacuate another 4,000 applicants who have received what's known as "chief of mission approval" but have not undergone the more rigorous security screening as has the group coming to Fort Lee.

A long backlog: But there's an estimated total of 18,000 applicants awaiting visas, along with an estimated 53,000 family members seeking to accompany them. The application process can take as long as 800 days.

More on the bill: In an effort to alleviate some of the backlog, the ALLIES Act would eliminate a requirement for applicants to submit additional paperwork proving there's a credible threat to their lives since "both public and clandestine reporting indicates that Afghan nationals who worked on behalf of the U.S. Government face heightened risk of retribution from the Taliban," according to a summary of the bill from Crow's office.

The bill would also clarify that Afghans who worked with nongovernmental organizations under cooperative agreements and grants with the U.S. government are eligible for visas, including those who performed democracy, human rights and governance work.

It would also expand eligibility to family members of SIV applicants who died before completing the process.

 

7 ARRESTED IN HAITI LEADER'S KILLING HAD US TRAINING

Seven of the former Colombian servicemen arrested in connection with the July 7 assassination of the Haitian president had received U.S. military training, the Pentagon's top spokesman confirmed Thursday.

"Thus far, we've identified seven individuals who were former members of the Colombian military that had received some sort of ... U.S. funded and provided education and training," press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

What kind of training?: The education and training, under either Defense Department or State Department funding and authorities, included cadet leadership development, counterdrug operations, noncommissioned officer professional development, or training in small unit leadership, human rights, emergency medical care and helicopter maintenance, Kirby said. 

Kirby stressed that all such training was "very common," and nothing "leading to or encouraging of what happened in Haiti."

No changes: He added that he knows of no current plans "for us to reconsider or to change this very valuable, ethical leadership training" as a result of recent events in Haiti.

Growing numbers: The Pentagon last week confirmed that a small number of the now 26 people arrested after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had past U.S. military training, but did not provide further details at the time.

Those arrested include 18 Colombians - at least 13 of whom are former Colombian military members - five Haitians and three U.S. citizens, according to CNN.

Moïse was shot and killed early on July 7 at his private residence in a wealthy suburb outside of Port-au-Prince. His wife was injured in the attack. 

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Heritage Foundation will hold a virtual discussion: "How Congress Can help America Get More Out of Our Defense Dollars," at 11 a.m. 

The Hudson Institute will hold a virtual discussion: "Transforming Defense for a Competitive Era," with Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.); Jay Dryer, director of the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Strategic Capabilities Office; and former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, at 12 p.m. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Lawmakers urge Biden to make 'bold decisions' in nuclear review

-- The Hill: Pentagon chief to restore advisory panels after purge of Trump loyalists

-- The Hill: CIA director triples size of medical team probing cases of 'Havana Syndrome'

-- The Hill: US names special envoy to Haiti

-- The Hill: Opinion: George W. Bush is still wrong about Afghanistan

-- The Hill: Opinion: The withdrawal from Afghanistan happened too fast and will have consequences

-- The Hill: Opinion: The military supply chain is national infrastructure - and it needs attention

-- The Associated Press: US launched several airstrikes in support of Afghan forces

-- Military Times: Fort Leonard Wood reports highest number of basic trainee suicide attempts

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