The U.S. Capitol building with red tulips.

The U.S. Capitol as seen on March 21, 2024. (Gianna Gronowski/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — A House panel advanced a $833 billion defense funding bill on Wednesday that provides a steep pay raise for junior enlisted troops while also cutting back funding for Ukraine and Pentagon programs popular with Democrats.

The House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel approved the legislation in a voice vote over the objections of some Democrats who said they could not support riders in the bill targeting culture war issues.

The provisions ban funding for diversity and inclusion efforts, prohibit funding for gender-affirming health care and prevent the Defense Department from subsidizing travel costs for service members who want to access abortion and other reproductive health care in another state.

Rep. Ken Calvert of California, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, said the bill seeks to refocus the military on strengthening its capabilities rather than initiatives and programs that are “wasteful, inefficient or do not contribute directly to our national security.”

“This bill supports the true difference makers and our best national security assets — our men and women in uniform and their families — with a pay raise, including one specifically for our junior enlisted service members,” he said.

The legislation meets the White House’s request for a 4.5% pay raise for all troops while also paying for a 15% pay increase for junior enlisted service members on top of that. The House Armed Services Committee proposed and signed off last month on the additional pay hikes, which will cost $2.5 billion.

Democrats said the bill advanced Wednesday included some of their priorities but also contained attacks on women and the LGBTQ+ community that they believe will sow division instead of supporting morale and unity among service members.

They pilloried Republicans for inserting the same controversial policy provisions that made last year’s defense funding bill a failure with Democrats. The measures were removed from the final bill following negotiations with the Democrat-led Senate.

“These policy riders do not belong in appropriations bills and, like last year, we will defeat them,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “But it is disappointing that we are going through this charade again, just months after Republicans and Democrats voted for the 2024 appropriations bills.”

Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the defense subpanel, said she could not vote for legislation that cuts $612 million from the Pentagon’s climate change initiatives and continues to “treat climate change as if it is not happening and is not a national security threat.”

She said she was also concerned by plans to cut funding for the military’s civilian workforce by $916 million and predicted plans to curtail abortion access and obstruct diversity efforts would weaken military recruitment.

“Just as we are seeing an improvement of recruiting numbers in the Army, provisions like these will discourage recruitment from across America’s diverse population, which is our strength as a nation,” McCollum said.

Democrats also took issue with the bill’s omission of the White House’s $300 million request for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a program that provides training and weapons procurement for Ukraine and has been funded since fiscal 2015.

“Why, after this Congress has repeatedly demonstrated broad bipartisan support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian tyranny, are we considering a bill that fails to fund the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, rewarding Russia?” DeLauro asked.

Republicans have grown increasingly resistant to arming Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, with the majority of House Republicans voting against $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine in April.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the spending legislation approved Wednesday strengthens America’s defense and the military’s readiness for renewed threats around the globe, particularly competition with China.

“By focusing resources on the core duty of the Pentagon, the mission to deliver a combat-ready military that can prevent war and protect our great nation is met,” he said.

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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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