WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is registering more than two dozen objections to the House's 2018 defense policy bill, including a new space-focused branch of the military, it announced in a policy statement Wednesday.
Proposals to build the "Space Corps," to prohibit a military base closure round, levy notification requirements for military cyber operations, develop a ground-launched cruise missile — and to "misuse" wartime funds for enduring needs — were some of the Trump administration targets.
The White House stopped short of threatening a veto, however, and said it looks forward to working with Congress to address the concerns. Still, the list will provide ammunition to Democrats and Republicans who hope to pick off provisions of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act when it comes to the House floor on Wednesday.
"The Administration is in the midst of conducting several strategic reviews that affect multiple provisions in this bill, such as those addressing space organization and management and naval ship force structure," said Wednesday's statement of administration policy. "Once these reviews are complete, the Administration will be prepared to suggest modifications to these provisions."
Such lists typically reflect the Pentagon's concerns, with the weight of the White House behind it. For example, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also sent a letter, released by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, arguing against language in the bill to create a new military branch dedicated to space.
Turner, chairman of House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, has offered an amendment to the NDAA to strip language creating the service and replace it with a requirement the issue be studied. He hopes to see the issue debated on the House floor.
"Restructuring the bureaucracy to the great extent of creating another service branch is extreme," Turner said in a call with reporters Wednesday. "For the enormity of this task, there is a lot more work that needs to be done as a body."
The House Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly last month to send the bill to the floor. It authorizes $696.5 billion in defense spending for 2018, which includes $21 billion of $31 billion of DoD-requested weapons programs left unfunded by the Trump budget request.
The House Rules Committee on Tuesday ruled 88 amendments were in order to be debated on the floor and plans to consider dozens more when it convenes at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. The committee is expected to pass the rule for a debate on the floor Thursday.
A half-dozen White House objections happen to overlap with concerns raised by HASC ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash.
"As I've observed during earlier debates, many of these provisions are well outside the mainstream of common sense defense policy," Smith said. "So I'm not surprised that the Department of Defense is expressing concerns now, as well."
Both the White House and Smith object to the bill's ban on a Base Realignment and Closure round. The White House argues the language prevents the DoD from using a BRAC in 2021 to reap $2 billion in savings.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., has an amendment to strike the language barring a BRAC ruled in order to be debated on the House floor.
The White House argues bill language to create a program of record to develop a road-mobile, ground-launched cruise missile system would violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty, and undercut the administration's emerging Russia strategy.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., have an amendment to include limitations on the development of an INF range ground-launched missile system, which was approved to be debated on the House floor.
The bill also limits funding related to the Open Skies Treaty, which allows the U.S. and Russia to conduct unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of other member countries. Some lawmakers have expressed concerns in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine that Russia's flights amount to spying and that Russia is violating the treaty.
But the White House said a prohibition on funds for a digital imaging system for U.S. sensors and aircraft would prevent the U.S. from keeping pace with Russian sensor upgrades and lead to wasteful fees for breach of contract.
Smith has offered an amendment striking language that requires the INF Treaty to no longer be binding and instead requires sanctions against Russia as long as Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty.
The White House — and Smith — also object to the bill mandating a flight test of the SM-3 Block IIA missile against an intercontinental ballistic missile-class, or ICBM, threat within 270 days of its enactment. The U.S. Navy's top-of-the-line Aegis Baseline 9.C2 combat system failed to intercept a medium-range ballistic missile last month.
Lawmakers in favor of the language have argued they want to defend Hawaii against North Korean ICBMs, but opponents say that with Aegis systems in Romania and the Pacific, Russia and China would consider the move provocative.
The chief of the Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, told Congress last month analysis suggests SM-3 could be used to counter longer-ranged threats to "add another layer of defense to Hawaii" against North Korea, but there have been no tests.
Bill language requires anti-air warfare capabilities to be deployed at the Aegis Ashore site in Romania within one year of the bill's passage and at the Aegis Ashore site in Poland within one year of it being declared operational.
But the White House warned the accelerated timeline would force the DoD to field an unproven defensive system without knowing whether it was effective in combat or what the impact would be if it operated a high-powered radar and weapon system in a populated area.