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House committee’s version of defense bill would secure funding for Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes rolls off the press in Moerfelden-Walldorf, Germany, in 2006.

MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 2, 2020

WASHINGTON — A House committee’s version of the annual defense spending bill includes $15.5 million in federal funding for Stars and Stripes after the Defense Department proposed cutting the military newspaper from its 2021 budget. 

The House Armed Services Committee unanimously approved $740.5 billion in spending in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets yearly policy and funding priorities for the Pentagon, and that Stars and Stripes is funded at the same amount as fiscal year 2020. The final committee vote on the NDAA was 56-0. 

“Stars and Stripes fulfills a niche in journalism that isn't going to be matched by other journalists when it comes to military families and the minutiae of benefits, it is a very necessary piece of journalism,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who introduced the Stars and Stripes amendment. 

The bill also requires Defense Secretary Mark Esper to submit a report to the House Armed Services Committee about maintaining Stars and Stripes as a benefit to service members.

The bill mandates that Esper analyze reducing the newspaper’s operations and examine whether it should still receive annual funding provided by Congress.

The proposed Defense Department budget for fiscal year 2021 cuts Stars and Stripes of its federal subsidies, which equals about half of the news organization’s yearly funds to pay to print and distribute newspapers to American troops deployed around the globe, including remote and often-dangerous locations such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The rest of the organization’s money comes from sales, subscriptions and advertising.

Stars and Stripes first appeared during the Civil War, and it has been continuously published since World War II. It produces daily newspapers for U.S. military troops across the world and a website, stripes.com, which is updated with news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Though it is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Agency, Stripes retains its editorial independence and is congressionally mandated to be governed by First Amendment principles.

The proposed cuts to Stars and Stripes were a product of the recent defense-wide review to cut spending and reallocate funds to efforts the Pentagon considers important for defense against threats from other military powers, mainly China and Russia. 

“So, we trimmed the support for Stars and Stripes because we need to invest that money, as we did with many, many other programs, into higher-priority issues,” Esper said during a Feb. 13 news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

But Gallego said cutting Stars and Stripes funding from the Defense Department budget was not about money.

"It's such a small number in comparison to the whole budget, it’s less than a rounding error,” he said before the committee approved the bill. “This has nothing to do with budgets. This has to do with the DoD not liking investigative journalism. If not for [Stripes], Congress might not know about some of these important issues. I think they believe this is the one time to get rid of Stars and Stripes.”

On June 11, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved their version of the NDAA, which includes no funding for Stars and Stripes. However, the 2021 defense bill is not expected to be finalized until the fall. It must be passed by both chambers of Congress by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, to provide the Pentagon an on-time budget. 

Last year, the bill was not signed into law until December as lawmakers argued over the inclusion of funding for President Donald Trump’s promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. This year, Trump has threatened to veto the spending bill over the inclusion of renaming U.S. military bases honoring Confederates.

“The chairman’s mark is not the bill I would have written, but on the whole, it is one I agree with and can support,” Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the committee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement ahead of the NDAA vote. “It is the product of the House Armed Services Committee’s bipartisan process and reflects priorities raised by all of the committee’s members.”

Beynon.Steven@Stripes.com
Twitter: @StevenBeynon
 

In a 2013 photo, copies of Stars and Stripes destined for service members downrange are packaged at a printing plant in the Middle East.
STARS AND STRIPES

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