The House Appropriations Committee’s Defense subcommittee (usually shortened to HAC-D, and pronounced “hack-dee” in the Pentagon) will meet Wednesday morning, May 15, for the annual “markup” of the Defense Appropriations Act. This annual bill officially allows the Department of Defense to draw money from the treasury, and is the companion to the National Defense Authorization Act that originates in the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate.
During the markup session, individual members of the subcommittee will have their chance to make the case for which programs should be cut (or cut back) and which should get a boost. We’ll have to wait a while longer to get the winners and losers, but the committee draft bill, posted Tuesday, sets the table for a confrontation with the White House.
Overall, the bill would provide $690.2 billion for discretionary defense spending. This is $15.8 billion more than Congress authorized in Fiscal Year 2019, but $8 billion less than the administration was asking for. The balance of the administration’s total request of $750 billion is for military construction, and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy.
Those dollars will come from other appropriations; the HAC lumps military construction into the same bill as the Department of Veterans Affairs budget, legislation called the VA/MILCON bill, and the Department of Energy’s budget is in yet another bill.
Limits on reprogramming
A major sticking point with the administration, and perhaps with the Republicans who control the Senate, is the new limits placed on the Pentagon’s ability to shift dollars between different projects, known as reprogramming. This ability, along with the powers granted to the president under the National Emergencies Act, is how the White House is funding (or, for the time being, attempting to fund) the president’s border wall project.
“The Subcommittee also protects and asserts the constitutional prerogatives of Congress so that funds appropriated are only to be spent on designated and authorized purposes,” the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana said in the subcommittee’s summary of the bill.
The bill will address what the subcommittee calls “abuse of congressionally granted reprogramming privileges” by reducing the amount of authorized reprogramming from $9.5 billion to $1.5 billion, “and reducing thresholds for prior approval reprogrammings.” This means that the Pentagon will have to go back to Congress more often than in the past to respond to changing priorities.
Similarly, the VA/MILCON bill specifically prohibits the administration from redirecting MILCON funds “to design, construct, or carry out a project to construct a wall, barrier, fence, or road along the Southern border of the United States.” The VA/MILCON bill had its subcommittee markup on May 1, and a full committee markup on May 9.
The HAC approved an appropriation of $13.46 billion for military construction, more than $7.6 billion less than the administration requested. Clearly, the Democratic-controlled House has no intention of replenishing the money the president has diverted to the border wall. The posted draft of the HAC-D bill does not mention the border, but a member is certain to introduce language similar to the VA/MILCON bill during markup.
Space Force Countdown halted
There is plenty more news in the bill, but for now, I’ll just highlight one point of interest. The bill approves the expenditure of $15 million in operations and maintenance funds to “study and refine plans for the potential establishment of a Space Force as a branch of the Armed Forces,” but specifically does not authorize the creation of Space Force.
Bottom line: the White House and Congressional Democrats are light years apart on some big issues, and this process will drag on for months. At this early stage, I don’t even see a path for getting the House and Senate to agree, let alone convincing the president to sign a bill that cuts his biggest priorities off at the knees.
Everybody get your furlough procedures in order, because I smell another shutdown coming in October.