House lawmakers seek to slash military personnel funding by $488 million from Biden’s defense budget proposal
WASHINGTON — Members of the House Appropriations Committee want to cut funding for military personnel by $488 million from the Biden administration’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal, according to a draft of a subcommittee spending bill.
But the proposal from the committee’s subpanel on defense includes the administration’s request for a 2.7% pay raise for service members, providing a total of $166.8 billion in funding for troops and Defense Department contractors. The proposal also matches the administration’s request to fund an active-duty military force of 1,346,400 troops.
The draft spending bill, which was released Tuesday and is set to be considered by the subcommittee in a closed session Wednesday, proposes $706 billion in defense spending, largely in line with Biden’s $715 billion proposal for the Defense Department. The administration’s request includes $10 billion for Pentagon infrastructure projects, which is part of a separate bill.
That legislation from the military construction subpanel of the House Appropriations Committee was approved last week and provides $10.9 billion for construction projects. It is set to be debated Wednesday by the full House Appropriations Committee.
The House Appropriations Committee’s work on the pair of defense-related measures kicks off months of deliberations on the National Defense Authorization Act — the annual defense legislation that sets policy and funding for the Pentagon.
During the last week of July, the House Armed Service Committee is set to hold a series of hearings to debate each of its seven subcommittee’s spending bills. At that time, lawmakers will offer amendments and compromises on elements included in the bills. The full committee is scheduled to debate the NDAA’s provisions on Sept. 1.
It’s unclear when the Senate Armed Services Committee and its subpanels will hold hearings to consider their own version of the NDAA. Often the Senate takes up the House bill and considers amendments to it, and both chambers must reach an agreement on a final version of the bill. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, but negotiations can drag on for months.
At the same time, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees consider several appropriations bills, including one for defense spending, which provides funding for the agencies and programs authorized by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees’ bill.
The draft bill released Tuesday does not seem to stray far from the defense budget proposed by the Biden administration and Pentagon, which both sought to divest from legacy systems to funnel cash into new technologies. However, it could face criticism from Republican lawmakers who have called for a 3-5% increase to the overall defense budget. At the same time, Democratic lawmakers have pushed for significant cuts in defense spending.
“Democrats have landed on a responsible funding level for the Department of Defense that maintains a strong national security posture today, while making important investments in modernization that will make us even stronger in the years to come,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., chairwoman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
The bill would also boost funding in President Joe Biden’s proposal for sexual assault prevention and response programs at the Pentagon and for the services by an additional $54.5 million.
The measure adds $1.7 billion in funding for weapons procurement from Biden’s budget but reduces money for developing next-generation weaponry to deter China and Russia by $1.6 billion.
The spending bill also reverses a move from the Biden administration to cut one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. A contract between the Navy and shipyards Bath Iron Works and Ingalls Shipbuilding called for two surface combat ships in fiscal 2022, meaning the service would not be able to meet its obligations under Biden’s proposal.
The Biden administration’s budget cut of the second destroyer sparked backlash from lawmakers who argued that breaking the contract could hurt the shipbuilding workforce and Navy capabilities.
“We’ve been working for weeks to restore approval and funding for a [Arleigh Burke-class] destroyer in next year’s defense budget. [Tuesday’s] news puts the delegation in a strong starting position to defeat this ill-advised cut proposed by the president’s administration,” said Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Members of the House appropriations subcommittee also want to cancel the Navy’s nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, a decision that acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker supported in a recent memo. Some Republicans condemned the move to eliminate the program ahead of the administration’s nuclear posture review that is set to start in the next month. Lawmakers also scolded Harker for not consulting other top military and Pentagon leaders.
The defense spending bill cuts one of two fleet ocean tugs requested by Biden, which means the subcommittee proposal calls for eight new ships.
The bill also funds 85 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and 12 F-15EX fighter jets to match Biden’s proposal.
The legislation also similarly ends the use of the Defense Department’s long-held wartime coffers, known as Overseas Contingency Operations funds.
Amid calls from lawmakers, advocates and the public to evacuate translators and their families who helped U.S. personnel in Afghanistan for the last 20 years, the measure would also give $25 million to provide safe passage for these interpreters and others who are under threat from the Taliban. However, the defense funding bill is not typically passed by Congress until December, months after U.S. troops are scheduled to leave the country.
The bill would also give $1 million to the Army to rename installations, facilities, roads and streets that are named after Confederate leaders and officers from the Civil War, and orders the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be shuttered by Sept. 30, 2022.