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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Democrats pass $25 billion Pentagon funding boost

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House Democrats passed a $25 billion boost to the Pentagon budget, attaching it to the annual defense policy bill in a loud rebuke of President Biden’s proposal to increase defense spending by less than the inflation rate.

The House’s 316-113 vote Thursday night on the overall National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with the spending boost left intact, was a victory for Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats as the legislation advances to the Senate.      

“I think it’s a big win, and it’s a testament to ranking member Rogers pushing it, and his leadership,” said Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican, speaking of Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

“It’s a down payment,” Mr. Gallagher added.

Mr. Biden has faced a backlash from lawmakers for his proposed defense budget with Republicans and some Democrats raising alarms over the essentially flat top line despite growing threats from Russia and China.

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees included the measure in their final committee markup, but the spending boost was met with expected pushback from progressives on the left once the bill came up for debate by the full House.

Two California Democrats — Rep. Barbara Lee, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Sara Jacobs, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee — proposed an amendment to walk back the $25 billion increase.

But the chamber voted it down by a 286-to-142 margin.

Ms. Lee said the additional funding fails to hold the Pentagon accountable for years of runaway spending. She said trillions of dollars were spent over 20 years in Afghanistan, and said much of it was pilfered or wasted, noting that the Pentagon has failed to pass a clean audit despite being directed to do so under a law she helped create.

“We have to really take a look at what is taking place within the Pentagon in terms of spending,” Ms. Lee said.

The House also decisively nixed a separate measure to impose a further 10% haircut to Mr. Biden’s proposal, which was offered by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat. That vote was 332-86.

With the additional spending, the NDAA authorizes $768 billion for defense programs in 2022.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the votes sent a clear message.

“President Biden gave us a budget that doesn’t meet the needs of the country from a national defense standpoint,” he said. “A lot of the nuclear modernization that we’ve needed was not in the Biden budget. And some of the additional air power that we need to hold the high ground wasn’t in the Biden budget. And so we’ve done what Congress does — we’ve added a little to the mix and I think we’ve made it a better bill.”

But for some Republicans, the win on the funding was not enough to convince them to back the bill, which they said failed to hold Mr. Biden accountable for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and included amendments which would turn “our military into a progressive social experiment.”

On Tuesday, members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of more than 40 conservative Republicans, announced that they would oppose the bill over several key provisions. 

Namely, the lawmakers object to a provision included in the committee version of the bill which would require women to register for the draft. The group also wants measures to be included in the bill which would defund critical race theory training for federal employees, which failed to pass in committee.

“A vote for this is to vote to give a free pass to the Biden administration for what they did in the Afghanistan evacuation,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican and House Freedom Caucus chairman. “It is a vote to force women to register for the draft, and as a vote to allow deliberately divisive ideology to become part of our military training.”

Rep. Chip Roy, Texas Republican and another Freedom Caucus member, became incensed by the measure to include women in the draft at a press event Wednesday on the eve of the vote.

“Under no circumstances should a civilized country, the United States of America with the ability to have a volunteer force to the size and the caliber and the strength that we have, say that we’re going to force women into being drafted into the United States military,” Mr. Roy said. “I cannot put into words, the extent to which that idea angers me and undermines who we are as a nation.”

“And I cannot believe that House Republicans are sweeping it aside, sweeping it under the rug, refusing to talk about it,” he said. “While they blindly march forward, saying that the conference supports passage of the NDAA.”

Mr. Rogers said earlier in the week that his fellow Republicans’ tactics were out of line.

“The things that they picked out, you just got to point out that we’re in the minority,” he said. “Everybody is going to get something that they don’t like in the bill and that doesn’t mean you vote against it just because there are two or three things you don’t like.”

Mr. Gallagher echoed Mr. Rogers’ stance Thursday. He said he voted against including women in the draft and said he thinks selective service as a whole is outdated, but it was not worth sinking the entire bill over.

“My hope is we can get rid of that in the conference and that will assuage everybody’s concerns,” he said. “Failing that, we’re going to have to address it when we take control of the House because I agree with them on the issue.”

“But I don’t think it’s worth tanking the NDAA right now and hopefully we can fix it in conference,” he said.

Mr. Gaetz, who voted in favor of the bill, did concede that among the more than 400 amendments included in the bill, there were some “poison pills” added, which he hopes Congress will be able to work out in conference and through the Senate vote. 

But he said that in the end he expects a “clean NDAA that most everybody should be pretty proud to vote for.”

“The macro theme of this NDAA is a pivot to near-peer adversaries and major power competition and that gives me a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.

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