China Risks Spur U.S. Lawmakers to Add $25 Billion for Pentagon

  • Policy bill advances, would require Afghanistan reports
  • Clash looms over Biden blueprint, congressional priorities

The Pentagon would be authorized to spend $25 billion more than President Joe Biden‘s recommended level for the next fiscal year, as House lawmakers cited a need to counter an emerging China and demanded that Congress receive detailed accounting and periodic updates on Afghanistan after a messy withdrawal.

More than a dozen Democrats on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee defied Biden by joining with Republicans to increase the Pentagon’s budget to $740 billion from the $715 billion the White House requested. The provision is part of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill, H.R. 4350. The funding authorization is similar to the defense policy bill the Senate Armed Services Committee approved in July.

The House Armed Services Committee approved the defense policy bill 57-2 early Thursday. The full House will have to consider the measure next. The Senate also has to approve its own version of the bill before it heads for final negotiations with the House.

Democrats will need GOP support in both the tightly controlled House and Senate to pass the yearly defense policy measure. The agreement to increase the defense funding level sets up a clash with spending panels aiming to stay within the president’s budget blueprint.

The measure, which would come to $778 billion including defense programs the Energy Department handles, typically is considered must-pass because it authorizes pay for troops in harm’s way. It also spells out policies on counter-terrorism and deterring strategic competitors such as China and Russia.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
The U.S. Department of Defense seal in the Pentagon Briefing Room in Arlington, Virginia.

The provision from Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the House Armed Services Committee ranking member, would add $23.9 billion to the Pentagon’s budget. That amount includes $9.8 billion for weapons procurement, including a third DDG-51 destroyer for the Navy. It also would call for funding to buy three Virginia-class submarines a year, both made by General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. It would add $5.2 billion to research accounts and $4.2 billion for cyber defense and innovation.

Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) had already proposed an increase of $1.1 billion in the underlying bill, bringing the committee-passed increase to $25 billion more than Biden requested.

“The president’s defense budget fails to adequately address the rising threats of China, Iran and Russia and I will not hesitate to break with my party if it is in the best interest of our national security,” said Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), one of 14 Democrats who backed the defense funds boost.

“The president’s budget submission was wholly inadequate to keep pace with a rising China and a re-emerging Russia. I hope this bipartisan, and now bicameral, move is understood by the Biden-Harris administration,” Rep. Rogers said in a statement.

Afghanistan

Republican members capitalized on the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan that left the Taliban in charge and 13 U.S. service members dead from a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport.

GOP lawmakers offered amendments seeking to call attention to how the Biden administration left Afghanistan this week. Veteran Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) offered a provision to require accounting from the Biden administration of military equipment left in Afghanistan, contingency plans to continue evacuating Afghans who hold special immigrant visas, and how U.S. military will operate outside of Afghanistan from “over-the horizon.”

Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney also received bipartisan support for a provision to establish a 12-member commission to examine the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the lessons learned from that involvement.

The House Armed Services bill would provide only one-tenth of the funding initially requested for Afghanistan’s national forces. The budget blueprint was drafted as the U.S. was pulling out of the country.

The bill would leave $350 million in the Afghanistan account, mainly to wind down contracts and close out other activities. The Pentagon initially sought $3.3 billion for the Afghan national security forces. The remaining funds are proposed for distribution to various accounts in the Pentagon’s budget, including facility maintenance.

Democrats and Republicans on the panel also backed a provision requiring Pentagon officials to brief Congress regularly on security in Afghanistan and threats to the U.S. coming from that country. Reports must assess terrorist organizations operating within Afghanistan as well as Taliban operations against Afghans who assisted U.S. and coalition forces since 2001.

ISIS-K

Another provision, sponsored by Cheney, would request quarterly reports on the threat potential from al-Qaeda, ISIS-K and the Haqqani network under Taliban rule of Afghanistan.

With bipartisan support, the panel also approved an amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) that would require the Pentagon to brief the panel on why it closed Bagram air base in Afghanistan and only left the Kabul airport open. Another provision, by Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) would require the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction to evaluate the performance of the Afghan security forces from February 2020 to August 2021.

China

The Pentagon would be authorized to spend at least $6.2 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative—a $1.1 billion increase over the budget request. The PDI was created to strengthen alliances and the U.S. footprint in the Indo-Pacific region to deter China’s influence.

Congress last year created the initiative largely to provide budget transparency and the proper resource allocation to match technology spending with the capabilities, logistics, troop posture, and collaboration with allies needed in the region.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have criticized the Biden’s administration’s request of $5.1 billion for the PDI, saying it double-counts already planned weapons buys and fails to pursue enough missile defense and training with allies and operations in the region.

The Pentagon would also have to inform Congress if China amasses more active intercontinental ballistic missiles than the U.S. The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command would have to notify congressional defense committees about the types of nuclear warheads used on the missiles and a strategy for deterring China. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), was included in a package of amendments backed by both parties during committee consideration of the bill.

Another provision would require the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to submit an unclassified report to the House Armed Services Committee by March 4, 2022 describing China’s and Russia’s efforts to boost their chemical and biological weapons.

Joint Strike Fighter

The estimated $398 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program—the costliest in Pentagon history—would face stringent oversight and limits as part of the measure. The House bill would limit the number of aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp. that each military service would be allowed to have in its inventory.

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The bill would reestablish a secondary engine program for the Air Force version of the F-35. It would require the Pentagon’s acquisitions chief to present a strategy to continue development and integration into the aircraft fleet beginning in fiscal 2027.

The Pentagon canceled a secondary engine program for the F-35 10 years ago. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would have until March 1, 2022 to brief the armed services panel on Pentagon efforts to reduce sustainment costs by driving competition into the F-35 program.

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Super Hornets

The measure would authorize $1.06 billion—an increase of $970 million over the Pentagon’s request—to procure 12 Boeing Co. F/A-18E/F aircraft. It would also boost the coffers of the F-15 E/X fighter program by authorizing 12 additional Boeing F-15 EX for a total of $2.56 billion—an increase of $1.37 billion.

Women Drafted

The House Armed Services panel also backed 35-24 a bipartisan provision to require that women sign up with the Selective Service for the military draft, should one be needed in the future. The Senate adopted a similar measure as part of its defense authorization proposal.

Border Deployments

The panel voted to bar the use of private funds to pay for National Guard deployments to other states, a few months after the South Dakota governor resorted to private funds to send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) sponsored the amendment, which won approval by voice vote despite opposition from Republicans on the panel.

Extremism

An amendment by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) would establish a Pentagon Office of Countering Extremism to track reports of extremist behavior among troops and Defense Department civilians. The office would share data with other federal agencies and would produce an annual report to Congress.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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