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House Democrats put their stamp on major defense bill

The House Armed Services Committee worked into the evening in a push to approve a massive defense authorization bill Wednesday, with the new Democratic majority hoping to puts its stamp on such hot-button issues as modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, funding for President Trump’s border wall, and just how much the Pentagon should get.

During a mark-up session that stretched deep into the night, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee repeatedly said the Democratic majority was shortchanging the military as lawmakers considered a proposed $ 733 billion defense authorization bill for FY2020 that challenges a number of President Trump’s top priorities.

Roughly one hour into the daylong review of the bill, Republican members of the committee expressed concern with the overall funding level and called to raise the total budget to $ 750 billion, in line with the blueprint released Wednesday by the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee.

“There are real concrete things that is the difference between what we can do for our troops and what we can do for the nation at $ 733 [billion] vs. $ 750 [billion],” Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the panel’s ranking Republican and former chairman, argued, citing the need to develop hypersonic weapons and repairing military bases damaged in recent hurricanes.

House Democrats on Monday released a draft of the defense budget which proposed a 2.3% increase to the defense budget and included a number of policy moves, such as new restrictions on the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detainee facility, a ban on funding a “low-yield” nuclear weapons, and withholding any Pentagon funds for President Trump’s border wall with Mexico.



“I think every single member of this committee can have a ton of examples of where the [Defense Department] has wasted money shamelessly,” committee Chairman Adam Smith said Wednesday, rejecting GOP calls for a higher spending mark.

The Washington state Democrat argued that, given an additional $ 17 billion, “the Pentagon will not be efficient with the dollars.”

Mr. Thornberry fired back, saying, “The notion that ‘you don’t give them what they want and that’s just going to squeeze out ways’ has empirically been proven not to be the case,” pointing to a rise in training accidents within the military when spending was slashed.

The Texas Republican’s push for a 3% to 5% funding increase was met with support among GOP members of the committee, and will likely be mirrored when the bill hits the House floor, as well as Sen. Deb Fischer, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The long markup came on the same day that the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee released the full language of its version of the National Defense Authorization Act. The committee’s NDAA is expected to be on the Senate floor later this month.

The Senate’s $ 750 billion blueprint for the Defense Department gives President Trump a victory on the top-line spending and the establishment of a Space Force, but, like the House, pares back his requests for a border wall with Mexico.

“This bipartisan bill continues the implementation of the National Defense Strategy, works to restore our combat advantage, and ensures the effectiveness of our military now and for years to come,” committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said in a statement.

Back on the House side, partisan sparring took place over a range of contentious topics, including how to address sexual assault at military academies, giving lawmakers veto power over Air Force One’s paint job, and funding levels for the modernization of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The committee voted to establish a pilot program to change the sexual assault prosecution system at U.S. military academies, allowing victims in the ranks to report sexual assault “without fear or receipt of discipline” if they were in possession of alcohol, accused of consensual fraternization, or seen in an off-limits area.

The existing policy does not protect victims if they are in violation of these circumstances. California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who introduced the amendment, cited that as a reason many victims do not report sexual assault.

The 57-member panel also passed a measure that would effectively block Mr. Trump from unilaterally conducting any “work relating to aircraft paint scheme, interiors and livery” to the current light blue and white color design on his presidential plane — a design which has been in place since the Kennedy administration.

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