Trump signs defense bill, awaits funding fight
By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 12, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a massive $700 billion defense budget into law, leaving a fight ahead on how to pay for the plan.
The plan, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, busts budgetary caps and requires special legislative action to fund all the new priorities. Without it, the defense bill would trigger so-called sequestration, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts.
More so, Congress is running the government until Dec. 22 on a Continuing Resolution -- a temporary funding measure -- and has yet to agree on an overall budget, including military spending.
“The defense bill authorizes major investments in our military’s greatest weapon of all, its warriors,” Trump said at the White House bill signing. “Now Congress must finish the job by eliminating the [budget cap requirements] and passing a clean appropriations bill. I think it’s going to happen.”
Trump made the remarks during a bill signing ceremony where he was flanked by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Vice President Mike Pence, and servicemembers.
“Having the president sign the NDAA conference report into law is a critical milestone in the effort to rebuild America’s military strength, support our troops, and reform the way the Pentagon does business,” Thornberry said in a statement following the bill signing ceremony. “The policies in this bill reflect months of bipartisan work and agreement. But Congress must follow this authorization with a matching appropriation bill if we are to really rebuild our military. There is more work to do.”
The 2018 fiscal year plan includes a 2.4 percent pay raise for servicemembers, increases the size of the military, funds new ships and aircrafts and authorizes new spending on missile defense. The budget also includes necessary retention pay and bonuses and covers costly repairs for two Navy ships involved recently in deadly crashes.
“For too long, cuts to the defense budget have crippled military readiness and put the lives of our servicemembers in danger,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “We have seen the results of those unconscionable budget cuts: sailors and Marines are working 100-hour work weeks, the Air Force is short 1,500 pilots, only a handful of Army brigades are combat-ready, and more servicemembers are being killed and injured in routine training accidents than by our enemies in combat. This is unacceptable and entirely avoidable.”
The bill is comprised of a base budget of more than $620 billion, with $66 billion in a warfighting account not subject to budget caps called the Overseas Contingency Operations fund and another $8 billion for other defense activities.
The defense bill, which surpassed Trump’s defense funding request, has faced its share of challenges this year. Trump’s plan, which kicks off the overall budgeting process, was proposed in late May, marking the latest a president’s budget has ever been submitted to Congress, according to Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Subsequently, the military along with the rest of the government has operated on several temporary spending bills this year.
“The bottom line is none of this is good for budget stability in the long run,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the think tank.
The defense budget also directs $26.2 billion for 14 new ships and $10.1 billion for the purchase of 90 Joint Strike Fighters, which is 20 more than the administration’s request. It directs another $5.9 billion for Virginia-class submarines, $5.6 billion for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, $4.4 billion for aircraft carriers, $3.1 billion for Army helicopters and $1.9 billion for procuring 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets.
The bill also streamlines the Pentagon administration and details a new No. 3 position that goes into effect at the Pentagon next year for a new chief management officer to direct business reforms. It also formalizes a first-time auditing process for the department and it directs the secretary of defense to address a backlog of 700,000 departmental security clearances.
“Congress and the White House must expeditiously work to negotiate a bipartisan budget agreement to secure this critical funding for our military instead of again forcing the Department of Defense to tread water by passing another Continuing Resolution,” McCain said. “A multi-year budget agreement providing substantial, sustained growth in defense spending is the only way to give our men and women in uniform the resources they need to keep us safe.”