House bill would fund effort to strip Army posts of Confederate names, boost pay 3% for troops
WASHINGTON — A draft of the 2021 defense funding bill approved Tuesday by a key House panel would support efforts to strip Army installations of Confederate-linked names, block Pentagon money for border wall construction and boost pay for troops.
The $694.6 billion version of the 2021 Defense Appropriations Act passed by the House Appropriations Committee would provide $1 million for the Army to rename 10 southern installations named for Confederate generals from the Civil War. After four hours of public debate, the bill passed Tuesday by a vote of 30-22, along party lines.
Democratic committee members, who lead the panel, praised the bill as an effort that takes strides to improve service members day-to-day lives and advances U.S. national security efforts.
“Most importantly, the bill continues to focus on the well-being and morale of those in uniform and their families, [Defense Department] civilians and their communities,” said Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel.
The wide-ranging bill would give American troops a 3% pay raise for the second consecutive year — the first back-to-back 3% boost in a decade. That effort matches a White House request and draft legislation passed recently by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
It also backs a White House effort to boost the size of the military, adding about $7.5 billion for some 12,000 new troops. It also includes about $450 million for coronavirus-related efforts.
But the bill was not supported by the committee’s GOP members, including its top Republican, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, who voted against it because she said she believed even if passed in its current form it would be rejected by President Donald Trump.
Granger listed several issues included in the legislation likely to draw a veto from Trump, including the provisions aimed at blocking the Pentagon from diverting any of its funds to support wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border and stripping Army posts of Confederate namesakes.
“We’ll have to drop or modify controversial language that could jeopardize this bill’s chances of being signed into law,” Granger said at the outset of debate on the bill. “This bill is simply too important to be slowed down by politics.”
The bill must be passed by Sept. 30 alongside another — the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the Pentagon’s spending and policy priorities — to provide the Defense Department an on-time budget. Lawmakers, however, have said it is unlikely either will be passed on time, though they are hopeful to approve the measures by late fall.
Trump has already vowed to veto any legislation that reaches his desk that would rename any U.S. military installations, and is unlikely to accept any efforts to slow the building of border wall, which was one of the central themes of his 2016 presidential campaign.
Democrats, who lead the committee, have balked at Trump’s actions in recent years to divert nearly $15 billion of Pentagon money meant for military construction, purchasing equipment for National Guard troops and other activities to fund the border barrier instead. The 2021 spending bill would block the Pentagon from moving money appropriated for specific items to border wall funds and it would cap the Defense Department’s ability to shift any funds in its budget at $1.9 billion.
Visclosky said Congress holds the power to set how the federal government spends its money. He likened the Trump-led efforts to reprogram defense monies into wall construction to theft, and he argued, in doing so, the Pentagon has “irreparably damaged the department’s credibility with the committee.”
“The sense of entitlement in these actions is galling,” Visclosky said. “And I hope that at some point the [Defense] Department will have the leadership in place who recognizes Congress’s constitutional prerogative and restores trust to the appropriations process.”
Granger has long supported the use of Pentagon funding for the border wall, which she said was a national security necessity. She and other Republicans on Tuesday unsuccessfully attempted to remove those provisions from the bill.
The $1 million appropriation to fund name changes for the 10 Army posts named for Confederate generals in former Confederate states during the Jim Crow era of the early 1900s is the first legislative effort to put a dollar amount on the effort. Army and Pentagon leaders in recent weeks have signaled they were open to a discussion on renaming those posts, however Trump has firmly asserted installation names would not change during his administration.
Measures to change the names of those posts were included in draft versions of the fiscal year 2021 NDAA approved by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees in recent weeks. The Senate’s version would give the service about three years to change the names, while the lower chamber’s version would change them within one year.
The draft version of the House Appropriations Committee’s bill would rename “installations, facilities, roads, and streets named after Confederate leaders and officers.”
The U.S. military’s top general, last week, indicated to House Armed Services Committee members that he supported a review of the Army posts’ names, calling the war efforts by the Confederate states “an act of treason.”
“Those officers turned their backs on their oath,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in public testimony Thursday before the committee.
Trump is also unlikely to approve of measures included in the bill that would repeal the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force and limit his ability to launch a war against Iran.
Those measures were added to the bill Tuesday via amendments proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and passed largely along partisan lines. The measures, Lee said, were meant to restore the power of Congress to declare war.
The AUMFs have for nearly two decades authorized combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations largely in the Middle East and Africa. Lee has labeled them outdated, providing the president overly broad power to wage war. Their repeals were also included in the committee’s draft of the 2020 defense spending bill, but were not included in the final, approved versions of the appropriations bill.
Lee’s effort would give lawmakers eight months after the bill’s adoption to craft new authorizations to allow U.S. forces to continue efforts overseas against terrorist groups. Republicans argued it was too short a window to ensure American troops were legally able to continue operations.
“You have to replace this with something, because we do have troops deployed in the [Middle East] and it is important that they have legal justification and authorization for being there,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “This is a very difficult thing. It doesn’t change the basic reality that we do need to look at [the AUMFs]. We do need to reclaim our war-making authority.”