The U.S. Senate passed its own version of the new defense budget on Monday, surpassing even President Trump’s requests for an increase in funding to bolster the nation’s military. Although the chamber is Republican controlled, the $700 billion defense policy bill received support from both sides of the aisle on its way to an 89-8 vote.
The House of Representatives passed its own version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is the formal name for the defense budget, and the two versions will have to be reconciled before the 2018 budget can be formally adopted. Many expect this reconciliation to be ripe with debate, as prominent Democrats have claimed that they’ll oppose large increases in defense funding if Republicans block increases to other non-defense related projects.
Nonetheless, this vote represents a significant move in the right direction in the minds of those who have championed an increase to the military budget, where operations in multiple combat theaters for the better part of 16 years have left America’s massive military in a state of poor maintenance.
For too long our nation has asked our men and women in uniform to do too much with far too little. We are gambling with the lives of the best among us and we’re now seeing the cost — the tragic but foreseeable costs of an overworked, strained force with aging equipment and not enough of it,” Senator McCain said while arguing in favor of the bill.
The Senate’s bill calls for $640 billion to be earmarked for the Defense Department’s main operations, as well as $60 billion more to be directed toward funding continued conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the world.
About $8.5 billion of those dollars would go directly toward strengthening missile defenses, which has grown in importance over the past year as North Korea continues to develop more powerful nuclear weapons and longer range ballistic missile platforms. The bill also calls for a 2.1 percent increase in military pay rates.
Other inclusions in the Senate’s 1,215-page bill are $500 million to be put toward security assistance, including weapons, to Ukraine, which was the site of Russia’s 2014 military annexation of Crimea, as well as $100 million to go toward Baltic Defense, intended to dissuade “Russian aggression.”
The House’s bill, passed earlier this summer, called for the formation of a new military branch, dubbed the “Space Corps,” which would absorb the Air Force’s current responsibilities in the skies above us, a realm increasingly believed to become an important part of the future of warfare. The Senate’s bill, however, does not agree – meaning the establishment of this new, highly debated branch will be left to the reconciliation efforts between the two governmental visions for the future of defense spending.
A rash of service member deaths, in both training situations and due to embarrassing collisions between U.S. Navy vessels and commercial ships in the Pacific, have shone a light on what many believe to be an issue with under-funding, under-maintaining, under-equipping, and under-training America’s service members, with sequestration strangling funding from programs and a high operational tempo permitting fewer scheduled periods of down time to maintain equipment and train troops. Senator McCain, a veteran himself, took issue with the current status quo.
“Where’s the outrage? Where’s our sense of urgency to deal with this problem?” He asked his fellow lawmakers.
The bill was opposed by five Democrats and three Republicans, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Corker, a Republican out of Tennessee.
Once the House and Senate’s bills can be reconciled, the next step will be to find the funding – an issue ripe for contention between Democrat and Republican lawmakers who often maintain very different priorities in terms of domestic policy.
“This legislation is only part of the solution,” John McCain said of the defense bill. “We still have no path to actually appropriate the money that we are about to authorize.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense