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Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., meets with 3rd Infantry Division soldiers at Grafenwoehr Training Center in Germany on April 13, 2022. McCollum, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel, and her fellow Democrats approved a $762 billion Pentagon funding bill on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, sending the measure to the full House for a vote later this year.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., meets with 3rd Infantry Division soldiers at Grafenwoehr Training Center in Germany on April 13, 2022. McCollum, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel, and her fellow Democrats approved a $762 billion Pentagon funding bill on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, sending the measure to the full House for a vote later this year. (Caleb Minor/U.S. Army )

House appropriators on Wednesday adopted a $762 billion Pentagon funding bill for fiscal 2023, sending the measure to the full House for consideration despite Republican calls to increase defense spending amid high inflation.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 32 to 26 along party lines to advance its version of the Fiscal Year 2023 Defense Appropriations Act, which fell largely in line with President Joe Biden’s budget request for the Pentagon. The full House will consider the bill later this year, as lawmakers seek to complete Pentagon funding legislation — and the separate defense authorization bill — before the beginning of the fiscal year, which is Oct. 1.

The appropriations bill provides troops and Defense Department civilian workers a 4.6% raise, pours billions into efforts to check China’s military ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region, invests about $1 billion into sexual assault prevention and another $193 million into suicide prevention, and provides $300 million to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian invaders. It also provides nearly $132 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation, which would be the largest Pentagon investment ever toward developing new technologies.

In passing the bill, Democrats rejected calls from Republicans on the committee to increase Pentagon funding for next year, pointing to the bill’s roughly $32 billion boost to fiscal 2022 military spending. Republicans argued Wednesday that the proposed bill failed to keep up with more than 8% inflation, labelling it a cut to Pentagon funding.

The bill, said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., would "directly result in the loss of combat capabilities and readiness.”

“I respectfully disagree,” answered Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel and who largely shaped the bill. “Our security is determined not only by our military might, but by our diplomacy and our development efforts. Over funding the Pentagon while underfunding the State Department, [the U.S. Agency for International Development] and investments at home that strengthen our economy is a costly mistake … This bill was written to strengthen our existing force — our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen, our Marines and guardians — to give them the tools that they need to do their job safely and to come back home to their families.”

The bill’s passage out of committee will set up a spending fight on Capitol Hill in the months ahead. Already, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an $847 billion version of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets Congress’ policy and spending priorities for the Pentagon. On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee also appeared poised to increase defense spending over President Joe Biden’s budget request, adopting an amendment to add $37 billion to the White House’s overall request during a hearing to discuss its version of the NDAA.

Republicans also warned Wednesday that measures included by Democrats such as provisions aimed at closing the controversial detention facility at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and language meant to ensure service members could have time off for abortions would inevitably slow the bill. Lawmakers must ultimately reconcile the House- and Senate-passed versions of the Pentagon appropriations bills and their versions of the annual NDAAs to fund the Pentagon each year. The fiscal 2022 funding bill was not passed until March as part of an omnibus package. Biden signed the 2022 NDAA into law in December, about three months into the fiscal year.

The appropriations bill would halt the Pentagon from using funds to operate the Guantanamo detention center beyond September 2023, effectively closing the controversial facility built in 2002 to house law-of-war combatants captured on the battlefield. Its closure has long been a Democratic priority, including for Biden. Democrats have long argued the facility is too expensive and serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists who oppose America’s detention of the inmates there.

Republicans argue the remaining 37 detainees held at Guantanamo cannot be transferred safely to detention facilities on U.S. soil or returned to their home countries. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., labeled them among “the most dangerous terrorists on the planet,” in arguing the Guantanamo facility remain open in perpetuity.

“Being tough on terror is not a recruitment tool,” Diaz-Balart said in defending an unsuccessful amendment that he proposed to ensure Guantanamo stays open. “Keeping these terrorists who attacked the United States off of U.S. soil to protect our national security interest, to protect the American people has always been a bipartisan issue that this Congress has always supported.”

Calvert warned another measure included in the bill by McCollum would also slow its progress on the House floor — language meant to ensure service women are guaranteed time off to seek certain health care, including abortions.

Democrats included the measure in the bill that would halt military commanders from using any funds to “deny leave for any member of the armed forces or civilian employee of the Department of Defense who is pregnant and requests leave to obtain an abortion or who is the spouse, partner or significant other of a pregnant individual and requests leave to assist that individual obtaining an abortion.” McCollum argued it was necessary to protect women who might need to travel to receive an abortion, should the Supreme Court strike down Roe v. Wade, which they said would likely lead to 26 states quickly moving to ban abortions.

“It's unfortunate that we're even having to consider this language guaranteeing women leave to access to health services,” McCollum said. “With the impending Supreme Court decision [on Roe v. Wade] servicewomen and DOD personnel could be living in states where it will be illegal to obtain an abortion, which means the soldier, sailor, Marine, airman or guardian may need to travel to access reproductive health care requiring them to take leave.”

Calvert and the panel’s other Republicans opposed the policy, objecting to its protections for abortion and calling it an attempt at “Congress micromanaging the [military] services.”

“Let's remember that we're trying to craft a bill that has a chance of becoming law,” Calvert said. “And provisions like this are the surest way to prevent us from passing such a bill.”

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.
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