The House Armed Services Committee on Thursday advanced its $733 billion defense policy bill. The committee voted 33-24 to send the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the House floor. The vote was largely along party lines.
Republican Reps. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Don Bacon (Neb.) voted with Republicans in support of the bill.
While Democrats hold a majority in the House, a lack of Republican support could become an issue when the bill comes to the floor if progressive Democrats are challenged by the bill’s $733 billion price tag.
Republicans voted against the bill in committee after losing amendment votes on several of their priorities, including increasing the dollar value of the bill and nuclear issues.
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), spoke to reporters after the vote and cited the funding and nuclear issues, as well as provisions related to Guantanamo Bay, as negatives that outweighed positives in the bill.
Thornberry offered an amendment to increase the top-line to $750 billion. But it was voted down 27-30. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) voted with Republicans.
Republicans argue a $750 billion defense budget — which is the amount requested by the Trump administration — is needed to counter Russia and China. They are citing testimony from defense officials on the need for a 3 to 5 percent year-over-year budget increase.
“Everything in here is core responsibility of this committee,” Thornberry said of his amendment. “For us to authorize an amount less than the administration requested, less than the consistent testimony we have received, less than the Senate Armed Services Committee puts us at a disadvantage” in upcoming budget negotiations.
Democrats focus on the idea that the Pentagon planned to request $733 billion until late last year after defense hawks and former Defense Secretary James Mattis convinced President Trump to go higher.
“It’s worth noting that $733 billion, but about $17 billion, is the largest defense budget ever,” committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said. “$733 billion is not a small amount of money.”
Republicans are also deeply opposed to nuclear cuts in the bill. The bill would block the deployment of the new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead.
Two amendments offered by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to protect the low-yield warhead were voted down.
The committee also voted to add in a proposal to create a new branch of the military dedicated to space.
The committee’s proposal is similar to Trump’s Space Force idea, but is a more slimmed-down Space Corps nearly identical to a 2017 House-passed plan.