The U.S. Capitol seen through a window of the Cannon House Office Building.

The U.S. Capitol seen through a window of the Cannon House Office Building. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Tuesday released a defense spending bill that eliminates funding for a long-standing Ukraine assistance initiative and restarts an effort to end abortion access for troops and gut other divisive Defense Department programs.

In a repeat of last year, the legislation seeks to end the Pentagon’s financial support for service members who want to travel for reproductive health care, prohibit funding for gender-affirming care and ban funding for diversity and inclusion offices.

It also further solidifies Republican resistance to aiding Ukraine by forgoing funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a training and weapons procurement program created after Russia’s initial invasion of the country in 2014.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said the $833 billion defense bill would cut a total of $18 billion from the White House’s 2025 budget request for the Defense Department to refocus the military on its core war-fighting mission and growing competition with China.

“This bill withholds funds from initiatives and programs that are wasteful, inefficient or do not contribute directly to our national security,” said Calvert, who is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel.

The defense subpanel is scheduled to debate the bill Wednesday.

Democrats on the subcommittee angrily denounced the draft legislation, saying it undermines democracy at home and abroad and includes harmful policy riders that divide the nation.

They criticized Republicans for pushing the same controversial provisions that passed the Republican-led House over steep Democrat opposition last year only to be scrapped later during bipartisan negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“Once again, the Republican majority has written a defense appropriations bill that prioritizes extremist social policy views over the well-being of our service members and the security of our nation,” said Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the defense appropriations subpanel.

Calvert called the bill a strategic investment in modernizing the military and supporting service members and their families.

The legislation provides for a 4.5% pay raise for troops requested by the White House and includes $2.5 billion for an additional 15% pay increase for junior enlisted service members.

The bill rejects some of the White House’s divestment plans by preventing the early retirement of three ships and some aircraft. It also provides $135 million above the White House’s request to support Israel’s defense, and $242 million beyond the requested amount to combat the flow of fentanyl and other illegal drugs.

Republicans are proposing cuts in other areas to funnel money to their priorities. They are calling for a $916 million decrease in funding to the Defense Department’s civilian workforce, a $612 million cut to the Pentagon’s climate change initiatives and a $53 million cut from diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

A provision in the bill puts pressure on the Pentagon and the services to “take a serious look at what functions can be done better by technology than by civilians.”

Calvert said “every dollar counts” this year as lawmakers are forced to craft budgets that fall within the spending limits imposed by last year’s debt ceiling deal. The draft defense appropriations bill represents a 1% funding increase from last year. The White House is asking for $895 billion for total national security spending in fiscal 2025, which begins Oct. 1.

“In a resource- and time-constrained environment, my top priority for the Fiscal Year 2025 Defense Appropriations Bill is to strengthen our military’s position against any threat presented by China,” Calvert said.

The legislation includes funding for several unfunded priorities identified by military commanders in the Indo-Pacific region, increases investments in fifth- and sixth-generation aircraft and allocates $200 million for defense partnerships with Taiwan, an island democracy that China claims as its rightful territory.

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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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