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House panel’s NDAA, unlike Senate’s, sticks to Biden’s budget

Senate proposals would support billions more for national defense

A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jet on display at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona in 2018. The House draft NDAA bill endorses Biden's request for 61 additional F-35 fighters.
A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jet on display at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona in 2018. The House draft NDAA bill endorses Biden's request for 61 additional F-35 fighters. (Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The House Armed Services Committee’s new defense authorization bill endorses the amount of defense spending President Joe Biden sought and not the more than $44 billion raise proposed in the Senate’s version.

The House panel’s fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which the committee will mark up in a daylong session on Wednesday, would authorize $802.4 billion for national defense in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Combining that with $11 billion to be authorized for defense by other House committees, House Democrats are offering to approve $813.4 billion altogether for defense.

By contrast, the Senate’s draft companion bill and related defense authorization measures in that chamber would support $857.6 billion for national defense initiatives — or $44.2 billion more than the House.

Money, policy fights ahead

The money to bankroll those programs still has to be appropriated in separate spending bills that are wending their way through Congress.

Republicans in the House and Senate are expected to push for at least as much spending as the $857.6 billion pending in the Senate’s authorization bill. While the House GOP is unlikely to succeed in boosting that spending level as high as some would like, the battle will continue for most of this year, if not longer, as House and Senate members write the final defense authorization and appropriations measures.

Some hawkish Democrats may have more luck boosting the House NDAA’s level of authorized defense spending. Maine Democrat Jared Golden plans to offer an amendment during Wednesday’s markup that would add $37 billion to the House Armed Services Committee total and disperse it among various accounts, including weapons for Ukraine and more ships and planes for U.S. inventories.

Other aspects of the House Armed Services NDAA are also likely to be controversial, including the fact that it does not recommend continuation of long-standing statutory provisions restricting closure of the U.S. military-run prison for terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Washington Democrat Adam Smith, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, made his “chairman’s mark” of the bill public Monday, along with a summary. He said it authorizes more than enough spending to keep the U.S. military prepared.

“This mark will equip our country to meet its greatest national security challenges, and I look forward to its consideration before the full membership of our Committee,” Smith said in a statement.

Backing Biden

The House Armed Services Committee’s $802.4 billion national defense proposal comprises $772.5 billion for the Defense Department, $29.5 billion for nuclear weapons programs in the Energy Department and $400 million in other “defense-related” programs.

The House bill essentially would approve Biden’s proposed level of spending for the Pentagon in fiscal 2023. That amount of spending would represent a 4 percent increase over the fiscal 2022 enacted level — but just 2 percent if supplemental spending for Ukraine, Afghanistan and disaster relief in fiscal 2022 is included.

With inflation at its highest levels in decades, national security hawks have made the case that a bigger Pentagon raise is needed.

The House Armed Services Committee bill’s highlights include $4 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative, to help U.S. allies in Eastern Europe defend against any new Russian aggression. The measure would authorize another $450 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, compared with a $300 million presidential request.

For the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which is aimed at supporting U.S. Pacific Command as it faces down an increasingly assertive China, the measure would authorize $6 billion.

People and weapons

Military personnel, meanwhile, would receive the requested 4.6 percent across-the-board pay raise. At the same time, the panel would order a study of possible ways to update pay tables for the armed services.

The House committee’s Military Personnel panel recommended a way to cover more low-income military personnel under the “basic needs allowance,” a stipend to boost pay for those whose incomes are close to the poverty line.

Specifically, the bill would forbid the Pentagon from including housing allowances that troops get to pay for off-base housing in the income tallies used for determining eligibility for the basic needs allowance. A similar provision was in the House’s authorization bill in fiscal 2022, but it was diluted in the conference committee that reconciled differences in the two chambers’ versions.

Another housing-related provision in the chairman’s mark is a requirement for a report on what the committee’s statement calls “a more transparent, fair, and flexible way to calculate the basic allowance for housing.”

Moreover, amid continuing reports of quality concerns in military housing, the panel would require the military departments to notify and brief the House Armed Services Committee before executing any lease term extension for a privatized military family housing project.

Smith said in the statement that he is “particularly proud” of the pay and housing provisions.

On military hardware, the panel endorses the requested number of new warships (eight) and F-35 fighter jets (61) and most Army and Marine Corps ground vehicle and helicopter programs.

The panel also supports continued production of B-21A nuclear-capable bombers and the Columbia class of nuclear-missile submarines.

And the committee supports funding for safety upgrades for Humvees that have been involved in some recent accidents.

The panel’s mark would support the administration’s proposal to maintain a roughly 2.1 million-strong U.S. military with just one tweak: It would increase the Navy’s active end strength by 1,920 sailors.

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