House panel's NDAA version bumps pay, halts Germany drawdown, scrubs Confederacy from bases

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

WASHINGTON — A House committee late Wednesday night approved a $740.5 billion defense spending bill that includes renaming U.S. military installations that honor Confederate generals, a pay raise for troops, funding to combat future pandemics, and limiting the president’s ability to withdraw troops from Germany. 

The House Armed Services Committee passed its 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets yearly policy and funding priorities for the Pentagon, by a 56-0 vote after 14 hours of debate on Capitol Hill. 

The panel passed an amendment as part of the NDAA that would kick off the process of renaming bases honoring Confederates from the Civil War. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the NDAA contains a similar provision. 

The 10 Army posts named in honor of Confederate generals are Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia; Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas.

But President Donald Trump has said an NDAA arriving on his desk with measures to rename those military bases is unacceptable, possibly putting congressional Republicans on a collision course with the White House. 

"I would hope the president really wouldn't veto the bill over this issue,"  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky,. said Wednesday on Fox News. " I hope the president would reconsider vetoing the entire defense bill, which includes pay raises for our troops, over a provision in there that could lead to changing the names of some of these military bases."

Confederate flags would also be barred from military property in another House NDAA amendment. The measure carries a few exemptions such as museums or graves that display Confederate battle flags in a historical context, and state license plates. 

“Despite the challenges of [the coronavirus] and its economic impacts, we still get our job done, and it’s incredibly important that we get that done,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said during debate on the NDAA. “We are exercising our oversight as Congress over national security. It is enormously important that Congress does that.”

The bill also includes a 3% pay raise for service members that keeps up with inflation and mirrors the Senate version. The military gets a pay raise each year and has ranged from 2.2% in 2007 to 3.1% this year. 

The committee voted 49-7 to adopt an amendment to the NDAA from Reps. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Don Bacon, R-Neb., to rebuke Trump’s plan to remove thousands of troops out of Germany, which can be used as a quick-reaction force again Russia and be deployed rapidly to the Middle East and Africa. 

“Things should be thought about before we announce we’re going to yank 10,000 troops out of Germany,” Smith said. “The president has not yet been clear on what he’s doing.”

The amendment prevents the administration from reducing troops until 180 days after the Defense Department presents a plan on Capitol Hill certifying the drawdown would not harm the United States or its allies. 

The House committee’s defense spending bill also includes $1 billion to combat future pandemics, including $750 million for military preparedness, and millions for rapid production of medical gear. 

Voting came to a close shortly before midnight, making it one of the fastest markup sessions in years. The final amendment approved was offered by Smith and names the defense bill after Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the committee, who is retiring after serving in Congress since 1995. 

Twitter: @StevenBeynon

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