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House panel advances $690B Pentagon spending bill that limits border wall efforts

The Hill logo The Hill 5/15/2019 Rebecca Kheel
a view of a city: House panel advances $690B Pentagon spending bill that limits border wall efforts © Getty Images House panel advances $690B Pentagon spending bill that limits border wall efforts

A House subcommittee on Wednesday advanced an annual spending bill that would limit the Pentagon's ability to transfer money, a move made in response to President Trump's use of defense funds for his proposed border wall.

In a closed-door markup, the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee approved by voice vote the fiscal 2020 Pentagon spending measure. The legislation will now be taken up by the full Appropriations Committee for a vote.

"The subcommittee has sought throughout this legislative process to keep in mind the morale and the quality of life of all of our service members and their families. I believe we have taken tangible steps in this bill to refocus much-deserved attention on their issues of concern," subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) said in a statement. "The subcommittee also protects and asserts the constitutional prerogatives of Congress so that funds appropriated are only to be spent on designated and authorized purposes."

The measure would prohibit any funding included in the bill to be used to build border barriers.

The bill, seeking to respond to what a Democratic summary describes as "abuse," would reduce the Pentagon's authority to transfer money, from the $9.5 billion requested to $1.5 billion. It also would reduce the threshold for reprogramming funding that was previously approved.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan last week approved transferring $1.5 billion from various accounts to be used for Trump's border wall. That followed approval in March to transfer $1 billion toward wall construction.

The transfers infuriated Democrats, particularly because it bucked a tradition that the heads of relevant congressional committees sign off on reprogramming money.

Overall, the bill would provide $690.2 billion for the Defense Department, an increase of $15.8 billion over the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The total is split between $622.1 billion in base budget funding and $68.1 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

Though the bill advanced, Republicans blasted the funding level, which is $8 billion below the Pentagon's request.

"I support many of the investments made in this defense appropriations bill to strengthen our armed forces, such as improving our weapons systems and providing better health services for our troops," Rep. Kay Granger (Texas), the committee's top Republican, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the Democrats have proposed an overall funding level that does not adequately address growing global threats, and it is less than requested, halting the progress we have made in improving military readiness."

The measure is also consistent with an overall $733 billion defense budget when including money outside the scope of the legislation, such as military construction and Department of Energy nuclear programs. The administration requested a total defense budget of $750 billion.

Meanwhile, the bill would provide $15 million to continue studying the idea of a "Space Force," rather than the $72 million the Pentagon requested to set up Space Force headquarters, amid concerns that Pentagon's plans were not entirely fleshed out.

The bill would fund an active-duty end strength of 1,337,500 troops - 600 fewer than current levels and 2,000 fewer than the Pentagon requested.

Troops would receive a 3.1 percent pay raise under the bill, as requested by the administration.

For aircraft, the bill would provide $8.7 billion to buy 90 F-35 fighter jets, or 12 more than requested, and $986 million to buy all eight F-15EX jets sought by the administration.

The bill would prohibit delivery of any F-35s or related equipment to Turkey. Lawmakers are concerned about Turkey getting both the F-35 and a Russian missile defense system, which Ankara has insisted it will buy despite U.S. threats to withhold the F-35.

The measure would provide $21.7 billion to buy 11 Navy ships, including three guided missile destroyers, two attack submarines, one frigate, one Ford-class aircraft carrier, two fleet oilers and two towing, salvage and rescue ships.

--Updated at 12:44 p.m.

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