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US House Armed Services Committee Democrats banded with Republicans to back a $37 billion boost to the national defense budget amid rising concerns about inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and China flexing its muscles in the Pacific region.
The Armed Services panel early Thursday approved 57-1 the fiscal 2023 defense authorization measure (H.R. 7900) after marathon deliberations that started Wednesday morning.
The bulk of the increase—more than $36 billion—would go to the Pentagon, which requested $773 billion for the year starting Oct. 1, as it makes up the majority of national defense spending. The bill also covers defense-related programs at the Department of Energy, which would see an increase of close to $1 billion.
The Senate Armed Services panel last week approved a $45 billion increase to authorized national defense spending, making it likely that the final defense policy bill for the coming year will boost the Pentagon’s budget.
Defense spending bills would have to follow suit in order for the Pentagon to receive the additional money. Because of their slim majority in both congressional chambers, Democrats need Republican votes to pass the defense authorization and appropriations legislation.
A Wednesday House Appropriations Committee markup of the fiscal 2023 defense spending measure showed the increase is likely to be contentious: Republicans on the panel called for more funding and voted against the bill.
Lawmakers have been wrangling over how high national security spending should go to surpass US inflation this year.
The Pentagon’s inflation calculations are at the heart of a dispute between Republicans and some Democrats over whether President Joe Biden’s budget request would meet the surge in costs seen in recent months, or shortchange national security. Small changes in inflation can have massive effects on long-term pay, as well as forecasts for weapons contracts and operations and maintenance.
The amendment to increase funding, sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and backed by members from both sides of the aisle, would authorize $7.4 billion to offset inflation costs for construction, fuel, troop housing, and bonuses. It would also boost the Ukraine security fund by $550 million to a total of $1 billion and shore up munition investments by $578 million to backfill US weapons sent to Ukraine.
Biden requested $813 billion for national security programs in 2023; the Armed Services panel covers about $802.4 billion of that total. The bill’s topline authorization would rise to $839.4 billion. Total national defense spending would be authorized at $850 billion if the House proposal makes it through Congress and becomes law.
The bill would authorize more ship purchases than the eight the Biden administration requested, including a third DDG-51 destroyer made by General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. and a new frigate made by the American unit of Fincantieri SpA. The amendment would boost aircraft funding, including $660 million for eight additional Boeing Co. F-18 fighter aircraft and five Lockheed Martin Corp. C-130 transport aircraft.
The defense authorization bill sticks with the Pentagon’s request for 61 Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The panel also agreed to continue the development of the sea-launched nuclear missile program that the Biden administration sought to cancel.
Under the bill, congressional leaders would appoint a new commission to investigate civilian casualties at the hands of the US military. The push for such a commission comes after revelations of civilian fatalities during US military operations in Afghanistan and Syria.
The bill would also require quarterly briefings on efforts to replenish and renew stocks of tactical missiles provided to Ukraine by the US, allies, and partners. It would require a briefing on logistical support provided to Ukraine and NATO allies before and after the war started, including information regarding pre-positioned supplies, equipment, and weapons, and any logistical or transportation challenges in Europe stemming from the invasion.
The measure would authorize more than $6 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and require the commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command to provide a report to Congress describing the support and sustainment for critical capabilities necessary in a conflict.
The panel also approved by voice vote a provision that would ban the sale of Chinese goods in commissary stores and military exchanges.
Training and Recruitment
The measure backs the Biden administration’s plan to reduce troops across the services, particularly the Army’s plan to reduce its active-duty force by 12,000 from the 485,000 authorized for this fiscal year as the service deals with a recruiting shortage.
An amendment by Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) would establish a Space National Guard made up of Guard forces from eight states and territories that currently conduct space missions.
The bill would also require the Army to establish tougher gender-neutral fitness standards for combat positions than for other jobs, such as cybersecurity.
The amendment, from Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), is similar to a provision included in the Senate Armed Services version of the defense policy bill. It could throw a wrench into a plan for the Army Combat Fitness Test after the service decided to scrap gender and age-neutral scoring when the new test becomes compulsory this fall. The test, which the Army has been piloting and tweaking since 2019, consists of six exercises administered over 120 minutes.
The panel also approved by voice vote an amendment by Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher that would ban cadets and midshipmen at military service academies from joining professional sports teams before completing their commissioned service obligations.
—With assistance from Shaun Courtney.
Read more BGOV coverage of the House Armed Services bill:
House Armed Services Panel Backs $37 Billion Security Boost
Gender-Neutral Fitness Standards for Combat Required Under Bill
US Air Force Tasked to Assess F-35 Ability to Fend Off Missiles
Armed Services Panel Seeks New Commission on Civilian Harm
To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at email@example.com