Vote Notes: Defense Appropriations 2017
Last week, the House voted on H.R. 1301, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which will set funding levels for the military in 2017. The bill passed 371 to 48, and I voted yes. The House actually voted on a bill to fund the military for this year back in June, but it never made it past the Senate. As a consequence, defense spending levels for 2016 were simply extended through April of 2017 - in what is called a continuing budget resolution. A new bill was needed to ensure that our military is funded beyond this point in the year. This bill is similar to the one from June, and has its good points and its bad points. If I could, I’d like to tell you a little about both, starting with the good.
This bill stays underneath caps on defense spending set out in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. When Congress takes measures to control the long-term growth of spending, it’s important we stick to those commitments....or at minimum come up with some other way of slowing Washington spending. The caps have represented the last remaining current tool for budget discipline in Washington.
This bill reverses the planned reduction in end strength levels, allowing for 24,000 more active-duty troops and 12,000 more reserve troops than requested by the previous administration. It fully funds a 2.1% pay raise for all members of our military, which is 0.5% more than requested and the first full pay increase for our troops in four years. Additional funding is designated for cybersecurity and cyberspace operations, which will help our nation stay ahead of the curve and ensure our cyber defenses are strong enough to thwart even the most sophisticated attacks. Also included is funding for the Marine Corps’ next-generation Amphibious Combat Vehicle, which happens to be built right here at home in the lowcountry.
There are a few areas in which this bill could have been better, though. For one, the overall funding level is more than it was last June, particularly in the warfighting funds section, which is not subject to spending caps. In the past, this section has included funding that should have been designated for regular operations, but was moved to the warfighting account in order to stay under spending caps. That sort of budget gimmickry makes a mockery of the budget process. While it appears this bill does not do this again in major form, I’m still concerned that at least some of the funding for overseas contingency operations belongs in the base budget.
No mention is made in this bill of a new Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the war on terror, which is disappointing. Our military is still operating under the AUMF passed more than 15 years ago in the wake of September 11th, 2001. This is to treat an AUMF as a blank check and that's wrong. If you say it's ok to fight a war 15 years ago, it does not mean you are saying its ok to fight one today. Accordingly, Congress needs to pass a new AUMF that reflects those changes.
One more concern I have is related to defense spending, but not specifically to this bill. It involves President Trump’s call for $54 billion more in defense spending in 2018, as well as a potential $30 billion supplementary defense spending request for 2017. It’s hard to imagine how Congress will manage to fit these additional funding requests in underneath the cap on defense spending. We better watch out. What you don’t want is a $50 billion increase in defense spending in the House that is matched by a $50 billion domestic spending increase in the Senate. I intend to watch this very closely.
Ultimately, though, this bill is about providing our military with the resources it needs to do the job we need it to do, whatever that job may be. Providing for the common defense is a core, constitutional responsibility of the federal government, and this bill fulfills that responsibility in a way that is mindful of our $20 trillion national debt, and so I voted in favor of its passage.