GOP defense hawks plan to offer an alternative spending plan during Wednesday’s markup to boost the bill’s price tag by approximately $25 billion, top Armed Services Republican Mike Rogers of Alabama told POLITICO in a statement. The proposal would put the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act on par with the Senate bill.
“My Republican colleagues and I will offer an amendment to address the funding deficiencies of President Biden and, with the adoption of this amendment, the House will reach parity with our Senate colleagues,” Rogers said.
Rogers’ amendment would dole out $15 billion to address a spate of military unfunded priorities that weren’t included in the Pentagon’s budget request, according to a summary. It would add $9.8 billion to weapons procurement accounts, including money for four more Navy ships, more planes and helicopters for the Navy, Marine Corps and National Guard, and upgraded Army combat vehicles.
The amendment also would pour an extra $5.2 billion into research and development efforts, including emerging technologies and beefing up cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Another $3.8 billion would go toward military construction projects and facilities upgrades.
Rogers dinged Biden’s budget, which doesn’t match the expected rate of inflation, as “wholly inadequate” and ripped the White House for underfunding national security “at the expense of liberal domestic priorities.” Rogers and other Republicans have instead called for boosting the budget by 3 to 5 percent above inflation.
House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) backs Biden’s lower $715 billion request. Smith’s version of the defense bill largely sticks to the administration’s request, authorizing $716 billion for the Pentagon for the coming fiscal year.
But pressure is growing to add to the defense budget after senators voted to boost military spending by $25 billion in July.
“My general sense is that in all likelihood there are the votes in the committee to raise the top line, that there will be enough Democrats to support that,” Smith told POLITICO.
With just a two-seat majority on the committee, Smith can afford to lose only one Democrat and still win key votes.
One moderate Armed Services Democrat, Rep. Elaine Luria of a shipbuilding-heavy district in Virginia, has joined GOP calls for a major budget hike. Several other Democrats on the panel say they’re amendable to more defense spending.
It’s unclear how the additional dollars may be allocated if the committee approves it, though there’s no shortage of high priority programs and weapons to spend extra money on.
Lawmakers have sought to boost fighter jet purchases, spur the expansion of the Navy fleet by building more ships and send money toward completing the overhaul of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, among other costly bills. In all, the House Armed Services version of the defense policy bill, formally released Monday, boosts weapons procurement accounts by $4.1 billion above the Pentagon’s request before any budget increase.
The NDAA, however, only authorizes spending. A deal between the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will need to be struck to actually fund any increase in the Pentagon topline.
But progressive lawmakers, who argue that the military is already too flush with cash, have vowed to fight further increases in defense spending.
In a letter on Monday organized by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), 25 House Democrats urged the committee to reject “unwarranted” budget increases. They contend current levels of defense spending don’t match the top threats facing the country.
“Despite trillions of dollars poured into our endless military spending, this budget has failed to meet the greatest threats that our nation and our world faces today, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the needs of 140 million people living in poverty,” Lee said in a statement. “Now is the time to shift our investments away from endless wars and toward addressing human needs.”
Pocan added that the defense bill shouldn’t “be even a penny more” than what Biden requested.
But progressives have obstacles to face — despite Democrats controlling the House, Senate and White House — with bipartisan support growing for more defense spending.
The extent of that support was laid bare in July, when the Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed a $25 billion boost to Biden’s defense budget in a blowout 25-1 vote. Progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the lone senator to oppose the move.
Democrats’ narrow House majority also helps defense hawks’ in their push for more defense spending.
Progressives, including many of the Democrats who signed Monday’s letter, typically oppose defense policy and spending legislation each year, meaning Republican votes are needed to pass the NDAA.
With Democratic leaders in need of their votes, Republicans are confident they can extract concessions on the defense bill, including a higher topline.
“You can’t pass defense bills in the House or Senate without Republican votes and that has been the case forever,” said Arnold Punaro, a former Senate Armed Services staff director.
Punaro said a defense hike “has a good chance of passing” in part because vulnerable Democrats will likely see that “there is no mileage in voting against an increase that is going to happen.”
Smith, meanwhile, is vowing to fight to keep the Pentagon budget where it is when his committee launches its all-day, and potentially all-night, debate on the defense policy bill. But the Washington state Democrat concedes there may be enough votes on both sides of the aisle to defy him and the administration.
“I don’t support that. I support the Biden budget,” Smith said. “But it is a democracy after all and we’ve got to get enough votes to move things.”