The House Armed Services Committee wrapped up a marathon mark-up in the wee hours of Thursday morning, approving a $733 billion defense authorization bill that comes up short of President Trump’s budget request and challenges a number of Mr. Trump’s policy priorities.
After more than 20 hours of discussion and debate, the new Democratic majority pushed the bill through by a 33-24 margin, with Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York and Don Bacon of Nebraska the only Republicans to vote in favor of the bill.
“Thank you, @RepStefanik and @RepDonBacon for your leadership and commitment to our men and women in uniform. We look forward to working with you, and all our colleagues in the House to pass this bill on the floor,” the committee Democrats tweeted at the conclusion of the session.
The committee vote sets up another fight on the House floor and with the Republican-controlled Senate, which this week unveiled the text of its version of the defense authorization bill that now goes to the full Senate for debate.
The most hotly contested topics included the overall spending number, as well as new funding restrictions on a “low-yield” nuclear weapons and the future of the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The “negatives outweighed the positives,” Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the panel’s ranking Republican, told The Hill newspaper. Mr. Thornberry led an unsuccessful fight Wednesday to restore $17 billion to the overall package that the White House requested and that the Senate Armed Services Committee bill endorses.
But the House panel rejected the higher spending number of a 30-27 vote just before approving the final bill. The House bill also funds a plan authorizing the transfer of the remaining inmates at Guantanamo to U.S. facilities.
Members clashed on a range of contentious topics, including money for President Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall; how to address sexual assault at military academies; modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal; and even whether Congress should have veto power over Mr. Trump’s plan to change the paint scheme on Air Force One.
The committee rejected two measures offered by Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, that would have cleared the way for funding and deploying the W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead. The Pentagon has pushed the tactical nuclear weapon, but Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith and other Democrats have staunchly opposed the idea.
“It’s one thing to have these weapons on hand. It’s another thing to brandish them,” said Rep. Jim Cooper, Tennessee Democrat and chairman of the panel’s strategic forces subcommittee.
Democrats also preserved a clause in the bill that bans the use of Pentagon funds to build and maintain a border wall. The panel also voted along party lines repeatedly rejecting Republican amendments that would have approved funding for projects in connection to the wall.
“It is an unbelievable waste of resources to address this crisis to spend that money on a wall,” Mr. Smith said of the amendments.
Senate congressional aides told The Washington Times there was far less partisan sparring in the Senate committee’s closed mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act, which was formally submitted Wednesday.
The Senate measure proposes a $750 billion blueprint for the Defense Department that gives Mr. Trump a victory on the establishment of a Space Force but also pairs back his budget requests for a border wall with Mexico.
In the minority since last fall’s midterm election, House Republican were left to fume about the process and the product after Thursday’s committee vote.
“This bill undermines our national security, weakens our defenses, and emboldens our adversaries to challenge us,” Rep. Mike Turner, Ohio Republican, said in a statement Thursday. “The provisions will not make it through conference or become law. Today was a political show of legislative malpractice.”
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