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White House seeks more Ukraine weapons support in Senate NDAA

Administration also opposes continued funding for nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, requests increase in Afghanistan SIVs

The administration is seeking new authority regarding supplying weapons to Ukraine: a Critical Munitions Acquisition Fund. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Thom Tillis, above, want a munitions fund to serve a broader purpose than restocking shelves emptied by the Ukraine effort.
The administration is seeking new authority regarding supplying weapons to Ukraine: a Critical Munitions Acquisition Fund. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Thom Tillis, above, want a munitions fund to serve a broader purpose than restocking shelves emptied by the Ukraine effort. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Biden administration on Tuesday laid out its vision for the Senate version of the annual Pentagon policy bill on a range of issues, including a new nuclear missile, visas for Afghans and a lack of funds for military construction projects. 

It also asked Congress to include new authorities in the bill, including for military support to Ukraine, and to broaden some existing proposals. 

The White House listed some grievances alongside points of agreement in a statement of administration policy released by the White House Office of Management and Budget, a public document that signals the administration’s views on pending legislation. 

Although the final makeup of fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act will be decided by Congress, the SAP can hint at sticking points that congressional leaders may have to negotiate before a final bill is sent to the president’s desk. 

The administration said that it seeks two new authorities in regard to supplying weapons to Ukraine: a Critical Munitions Acquisition Fund and a Defense Exportability Transfer Account. 

The munitions funds would authorize $500 million for the Pentagon to procure additional munitions. The House NDAA bill has a fund dedicated to funding munitions components that take a long time to produce, but it is not sufficient, the White House has said.

Senate appropriators have rejected the idea of a munitions fund and instead have proposed spending that half a billion in a variety of accounts. Moreover, some in the Senate, led by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis, want a munitions fund that would serve a broader purpose than restocking shelves emptied by the Ukraine effort.

Instead, they want a munitions fund established to keep U.S. military weapons stocks full, regardless of their use, and supply lines humming.

The exportability account would provide funds to help defense programs in the research and development phase to design into their systems features that would enable them to be more easily exported in the future, and to ensure they are interoperable with those of America’s allies and partners.

Without them, the defense industrial base will likely continue to struggle to meet surges in demand and the Pentagon will face delays in getting weapons systems to allies during future crises, the White House said.

Nuclear standoff

The administration also strongly opposes continued funding for the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N) and its associated warhead, and any attempts to delay the retirement of the B83-1 thermonuclear bomb.

“Further investment in developing SLCM-N would divert resources and focus from higher modernization priorities for the U.S. nuclear enterprise and infrastructure, which is already stretched to capacity after decades of deferred investments. It would also impose operational challenges on the Navy. The Administration opposes any limitation or delay to the retirement of the B83-1 because of its diminishing utility in the current security environment,” the SAP stated. 

In March, Rep. Mike D. Rogers of Alabama and Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma — the ranking Republicans on the Armed Services committees — said they would oppose any attempt by President Joe Biden to eliminate funding for the missile or retire the bomb. 

And in April, top military officials said they backed the construction of the SLCM-N, which would not be delivered before the 2030s. 

Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, told members of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee at the time that he agreed with the assessment of Navy Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, who proposed a “low yield, non-ballistic capability to deter and respond without visible generation,” an almost certain reference to the SLCM-N.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told House Armed Services Committee members that he too supports the program. (Milley was quick to note the missile would make up a small portion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and that “no foe should underestimate our capability,” whether the program is scrapped or not.)

More SIVs wanted

The White House said it also wanted an increase in the number of Afghan special immigrant visas, or SIVs, to be included in the bill. 

“Since Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act in 2009, the U.S. Government has used the Afghan SIV Program to resettle an estimated 90,000 Afghans and their family members in the United States. In bipartisan support of this effort, Congress has continued to increase the Afghan SIV cap annually. However, despite the Administration’s request to increase the SIV cap in FY 2023 by 4,000, the Committee-reported NDAA bill does not provide for such an increase,” the document said. 

The House version of the bill also does not increase the cap on SIVs. 

The SIVs are for Afghan interpreters, contractors and other vulnerable U.S. allies who aided the American war effort in Afghanistan and now face reprisal at home for their efforts after the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from the country last year.

The government has faced criticism for its slow processing of thousands of such applicants, many of whom are stuck waiting for news of their applications.

Another sticking point between the administration and Senate lawmakers appears to be military construction. According to the SAP, the Senate bill does not fully fund 21 military construction projects, which the White House says will effectively create an unfunded obligation of over $2 billion that will carry over into future budget requests. 

Areas of agreement

Despite some differences between the branches, the White House included in its SAP a number of policy areas where it is in agreement with legislators. 

The administration supports a proposal to make sexual harassment an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with the stipulation that only formal sexual harassment complaints that have been substantiated after an independent investigation would be forwarded to a special trial counsel for disposition.

The White House said it was also pleased to see the authorization of $1 billion for the Red Hill Recovery Fund, which would be used to defuel and clean up the Red Hill fuel storage facility on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where a fuel leak sickened thousands of residents late last year.  

The Pentagon announced in March it would close the facility permanently. “This is the right thing to do,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said at the time. 

The fuel from the facility will be dispersed to storage sites on land and on ships across the Indo-Pacific region. 

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the NDAA after lawmakers return after the midterm election in November.

The sprawling bill would authorize more than $846 billion in spending on national security programs, though the funds are appropriated separately. The total recommended by the Senate Armed Services Committee is $45 billion higher than the amount the administration requested.

John M. Donnelly contributed to this report.

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