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House defense spending bill avoids second sub, boosts F-35

BY: CONNOR O’BRIEN | 06/04/2024 10:12 AM EDT

House Republicans’ first take on annual defense spending legislation boosts funding for the troubled F-35 fighter program, but avoids adding a second attack submarine and cuts annual security assistance for Ukraine, striking a sharp contrast with defense policy legislation headed to the floor next week.

The $833 billion measure, set to be marked up by the House Defense Appropriations panel on Wednesday, also includes a slate of restrictions on Pentagon policies for abortion access, diversity and equity and transgender medical services.

Partisan breakdown: The inclusion of a variety of conservative social riders guarantees House Democrats will oppose the legislation, and they were quick to criticize the bill after its release Tuesday. Democrats are already opposing other spending bills over a funding breakdown they argue short-changes non-defense programs.

Defense Appropriations ranking Democrat Betty McCollum of Minnesota said in a statement that the GOP-led bill “prioritizes extremist social policy views over the well-being of our service members and the security of our nation.”

GOP appropriators, however, argued the measure focuses the military on its warfighting mission in a budget that’s constrained by spending caps.

“Every dollar counts within the topline limitation imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act,” Defense Appropriations Chair Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said. “Therefore, this bill withholds funds from initiatives and programs that are wasteful, inefficient, or do not contribute directly to our national security.”

By the numbers: The $833 billion for the Pentagon conforms to an $895 billion cap on national security spending set by last year’s bipartisan debt and spending agreement. It amounts to a 1 percent increase above the current level.

The legislation doesn’t include accounts that comprise the rest of national defense spending, including Pentagon infrastructure projects and nuclear weapons development efforts.

No second sub: The bill does not add a second Virginia-class attack submarine despite bipartisan pressure. The Pentagon requested just one boat in fiscal 2025.

The move is a split with the House Armed Services Committee, which authorized an extra $1 billion down payment to purchase a second attack sub in its defense policy bill, rebuking Pentagon leadership that argued the money was better spent on the sub industrial base to more quickly build boats.

But with limited budget growth, the expensive procurement shift would be difficult to pull off, and appropriators elected to buy just one sub. Appropriators, however, touted a $4 billion investment in the submarine industrial base, equal to the administration’s request.

In all, the measure provides $31.6 billion for four new ships: two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, a Virginia-class attack sub and a San Antonio-class amphibious warship. The Navy, by contrast, requested six ships. Appropriators didn’t fund the service’s request for a Constellation-class frigate and a medium landing ship.

F-35 plus-up: The bill includes $9.2 billion to purchase 76 F-35 jets, eight more than the Pentagon sought in its budget. The bill provides two more F-35A aircraft for the Air Force along with six more aircraft carrier-based F-35Cs. Appropriators also tout $2.1 billion in research and development funding to modernize the aircraft.

The plus-up is a clash with the National Defense Authorization Act approved by HASC, which proposes slashing funding for the Lockheed Martin-built planes to fix software upgrade problems that have plagued the program and led to a pause in deliveries. Armed Services cut 10 planes, redirecting money to fix production issues, and fenced off funding for another 10 jets.

Former House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger’s (R-Texas) district includes Lockheed’s F-35 production line in Fort Worth. Granger, who handed over the gavel this year and is retiring following the elections, has managed to secure increases in F-35 procurement in previous years in the spending bill.

Ukraine zero out: The bill text doesn’t include funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which has been an annual practice since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. A Republican summary didn’t explain the omission.

The Pentagon sought $300 million for fiscal 2025, though lawmakers approved billions for the account in a foreign aid package this spring that included over $60 billion to assist Ukraine.

Republicans touted a $1 million appropriation for a special inspector general to oversee Ukraine assistance along with reporting requirements they argue enhance oversight of tens of billions worth of U.S. military aid.

But Democrats were quick to deride the GOP for leaving out the cash “despite wide bipartisan support for helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia.”

“House Republicans choose delays and dysfunction that threaten our military readiness,” House Appropriations ranking Democrat Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut said. “Their bill fails to provide support for Ukraine, abandoning them as they continue to fight back against Putin’s tyranny.”

The program, under which the Pentagon signs contracts for new weapons for Kyiv with U.S. defense companies, has become contentious amid hardline GOP resistance to new money for Kyiv. House Republicans stripped a similar funding line from their defense spending bill last year after it was blocked on the floor.

Culture wars: The measure includes language to block Pentagon policies aimed at ensuring abortion access for troops in states where it is now illegal. The bill would block funding for leave or to reimburse travel expenses to seek abortions.

It also blocks funding for gender-affirming medical procedures for transgender troops.

The bill also takes aim at diversity, equity and inclusion programs by limiting funding for DEI-related offices and implementing President Joe Biden’s executive orders on the topic. It also prohibits funding for the promotion of critical race theory, among other provisions.

Space Force and the National Guard: The bill includes a provision preventing the transition National Guard missions and personnel into the Space Force unless state governors sign off on the change.

Military pay: The bill funds a 4.5 percent pay raise for all military personnel, matching the Pentagon request. But appropriators also allocated an additional $2.5 billion to implement a 15 percent pay bump for junior enlisted service members on top of the wider pay raise.

The major pay revision follows a similar move by HASC, which teed up the big junior enlisted increase as part of a quality of life package in the NDAA. A similar proposal was included in the House defense spending bill last year, but rejected by the White House and Senate.

Quick links: Bill text | House Republican summary | House Democratic summary

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