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House Passes $658 Billion Defense Spending Bill

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and colleague Barbara Lee, D-Calif. proposed an amendment that prohibits money being spent on uniforms for the Afghan National Army. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and colleague Barbara Lee, D-Calif. proposed an amendment that prohibits money being spent on uniforms for the Afghan National Army. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The House on Thursday passed the so-called security minibus appropriations package on a 235-192 vote, allocating nearly $790 billion across four separate spending bills, including $658 billion for defense.

The measure designates $584 billion in regular defense appropriations and $73.9 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations accounts.

The bill also allocates $1.57 billion for a border wall, perhaps the most contentious line item in the massive spending package. And it blocks some defense spending in Afghanistan and transactions with Iran, while adding funds for missile defense and other weapons programs.

The House quickly worked through 54 defense amendments ahead of the final vote on the bill, including approving one from Democrats Peter Welch of Vermont and Barbara Lee of California that prohibits defense spending on uniforms for the Afghan National Army.

The amendment’s passage follows testimony from three top U.S. auditors who on Tuesday told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon had spent as much as $28 million buying “unnecessary, untested and costly” uniforms for the Afghan military since 2008.

“What the general wants on sartorial splendor of his troops is not our problem,” Welch said of an Afghan general who spent American tax dollars on military uniforms with camouflage suited for tropical forests, not Afghanistan’s craggy landscape. “We all want to support our men and women in uniform and we want them to have good uniforms, but it’s not up to an Afghanistan general who takes taxpayer money on a vanity project that ultimately undercuts the security of our troops.”

The House took a tougher stance on Iran than in previous years, passing by voice vote an amendment from Florida Republican Ron DeSantis that prohibits the Pentagon from purchasing heavy water, which is used in some nuclear reactors, from Iran.

“This is still to this day the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” DeSantis said of Iran, which backs multiple designated terror groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas. “I want to make sure that this administration is not repeating the mistakes of the Obama administration,” which purchased heavy water from Iran after lifting sanctions on that country through the Iran nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, Ohio Republican Warren Davidson’s amendment barring Pentagon funds from being spent on military action in Yemen that does not conform to the War Powers Resolution hit a bipartisan buzz saw during debate, failing by voice vote.

Texas Republican Kay Granger voiced concern that the amendment could hamper counter-terror operations in the country.

“U.S. forces need the flexibility to enter any theater where terrorists target the United States,” Granger said.

Peter Visclosky of Indiana, the top Democrat on the defense panel, also opposed the amendment, saying that it is “overly broad” and would place “undue restrictions” on American forces deployed in the Middle East.

A number of amendments that would add funds to weapons programs sailed through the House in a 37-amendment en bloc package.

An amendment offered by Republicans Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Bradley Byrne of Alabama that would allow the Defense secretary to use funds from the proposed National Defense Restoration Fund on urgent or emergent missile defense requirements passed in the bundle.

The Restoration Fund, which was created earlier this year by the House Appropriations Committee, has a long path to implementation, however, as the Senate will likely oppose its size and scope when the two legislative bodies meet in conference later this year.

The en bloc package also included several amendments that would put millions more into defense acquisition funds, such as an amendment from two California lawmakers — Republican Duncan Hunter and Democrat Scott Peters — that shifts $20 million from operation and maintenance accounts to install broadband satellite communications technology on MV-22 Ospreys.

The chamber also approved an amendment from Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen moving $6 million from operations and maintenance accounts into acquisition accounts for Army missile technology and an amendment from Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman that shifts $26.2 million from the Defense-wide acquisition account to procure MK-48 torpedoes.

A similar amendment from Grothman that shifts $30 million from operation and maintenance accounts into Joint Light Tactical Vehicle acquisition accounts passed the House by a voice vote.

The legislation, which exceeds budget caps, faces a long path to becoming law at its current spending levels. Legislators would need to eliminate spending caps, raise spending levels or pour unprecedented amounts of funds into the war budget, which is not capped. Senate appropriators have not yet marked up their version of the defense bill.

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