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The U.S. Capitol as seen on May 8, 2019.

The U.S. Capitol as seen on May 8, 2019. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — House Democrats unveiled a draft defense appropriations bill Tuesday that is in line with the White House’s request for Pentagon funding in fiscal 2023 despite calls by Republicans to adjust spending for record inflation.

The proposed $762 billion bill provides continued security aid for Ukraine, pours resources into the Indo-Pacific region to counter China, invests in clean energy to address climate change, and addresses sexual assault and suicide in the military.

It also notably allocates an additional $600 million for troops’ pay and prohibits the Defense Department from denying service members and civilians leave to obtain an abortion, reflecting concerns over an upcoming Supreme Court decision that could overturn abortion rights.

Republicans and some centrist Democrats have criticized the White House for presenting a defense budget that accounts for inflation in the 2.3% to 2.6% range instead of meeting inflation rate spikes of 8%. But Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee ignored those complaints in the first version of a bill that will be debated Wednesday and eventually merged with drafts from the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

“Democrats are investing in creating good-paying union jobs, ensuring a safe environment for our service members and their families, and taking on the very serious security threats facing our nation and the world,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., chairwoman of the committee’s defense subpanel. “We also scrutinized this year’s budget for inefficiencies and for cuts that could be made to save taxpayer money.”

The proposed legislation cuts $803 million from the White House’s request for military personnel, $848 million from the request for operations and maintenance and $960 million from the request for procurement. One of the reductions targets the Air Force’s request for 24 F-15EX fighter jets at a cost of $2.7 billion, dropping procurement to 18 fighters at a cost of $1.9 billion.

Details on the other cuts were not immediately available Tuesday.

House appropriators are sticking to the 4.6% pay raise proposed for the military though several lawmakers, including some Democrats, have advocated for higher pay. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., conceded last week that the current figure “may not be enough” to meet the rising cost of living.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., described the pay raise as “strong” in a statement Tuesday. A subpanel of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday supported the 4.6% bump as well.

The House panel increased the White House’s requests in other areas. An additional $1.6 billion is earmarked for research and development while other funding boosts cover environmental restoration activities, training for combat and peace missions, community programs for students, foreign disaster relief and equipment.

Lawmakers also want to fund two more CH-53K helicopters than the 10 that were requested and save five Freedom-class littoral combat ships that the Navy had slated for decommissioning. The draft appropriations bill directs Pentagon officials to produce a report on alternative uses for the ships on missions in the U.S. Southern and U.S. Africa commands and explore the possibility of transferring four other ships bound for retirement to partner nations.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee last week advanced draft budget legislation barring the Navy from cutting the cruiser USS Vicksburg as well as four landing dock ships from its fleet. The fate of the nine littoral combat ships that the Navy also put on the chopping block will be discussed by the committee next week.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is debating its fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill this week and the full House and Senate will vote on the must-pass annual legislation later this year.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.
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