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House Gets to Work on Defense Authorization Bill

GOP to push for more dollars for the Pentagon

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, will begin shepherding the defense authorization bill through that chamber this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, will begin shepherding the defense authorization bill through that chamber this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Armed Services subcommittees will all meet this week to approve their slices of the annual Pentagon policy bill, the first formal step in the months-long negotiations to move the massive measure through Congress and to the president’s desk. The Senate Armed Services panels will follow suit soon. 

Subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee plan to mark up their portions of the fiscal 2018 defense authorization measure June 21 and 22. Then, on June 28, the full committee will hold its daylong markup. Senate Armed Services plans to hold its mostly closed markups of the bill the last week of June.

Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, the House committee’s chairman, has not announced how much spending his bill will authorize. But his Senate counterpart, Arizona Republican John McCain, told CQ Roll Call that both the House and Senate panels will probably draft bills with $640 billion for the non-war defense budget and at least $65 billion more for war — or $705 billion total.

Achieving even the lower total amount the president wants — $668 billion — would require Congress to raise the defense caps three times more than they normally do. So that means a lot of the added billions contained in the forthcoming authorization bills — for the additional fighter jets, helicopters, missiles and new facilities desired by the services — will in all likelihood not be found in the corresponding appropriations bills.

In other words, while the dollar figures in the authorization is never much more than a series of recommendations, this year it will probably be more like a set of hopes. There are, however, ways authorizers can force actual spending consequences. If, as is quite possible, authorizers require higher military end strength, a bigger pay raise or more military construction projects than President Donald Trump has sought, that will require appropriators to find real money.

Also worth noting: The budget will probably need to grow above the president’s request due to the fact that some 4,000 additional U.S. troops are reportedly headed to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are debating a fiscal 2018 budget resolution that would give the president more money for defense than he requested, trim nondefense spending by less than he wants and pave the way for $150 billion in cuts to mandatory spending programs.

None of the numbers is final, and differing numbers are being considered, Republican members of the House Budget Committee said. But they represent the latest incarnation of Budget Chairwoman Diane Black’s effort to craft a fiscal blueprint that can win the support of House defense hawks, deficit watchers, appropriators, committee chairmen, conservatives and moderates.

Any plan adopted in the Senate would likely be different, in part because of a rule in that chamber that proscribes exceeding the statutory discretionary spending caps.

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