WASHINGTON — Ahead of a bipartisan budget deal expected before year’s end, U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran is recommending a $650.7 billion spending package for the military in fiscal 2018.
The proposal announced Tuesday includes $581.3 billion in base Defense Department funding, $64.9 billion in so-called Overseas Contingency Operations wartime funding and, as Trump requested, $4.5 billion in emergency funding for missile defense.
Cochran’s draft bill was never put to the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, which he also heads, for a vote and never subject to the amendment process. If anything, it reflects the work product of the appropriations committee, with minority input — a marker for the Senate GOP’s position in ongoing budget negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House.
“This proposal recommends funding for programs necessary to protect U.S. national security interests. However, we still require a budget agreement to establish a top-line funding level for national defense spending,” said Cochran, R-Mississippi.
“I am optimistic we will be able to write a final bill that supports a strong U.S. force structure and makes needed investments in readiness, shipbuilding programs, aircraft procurement and missile defense,” he said.
The bill received immediate pushback from senior Democratic appropriators, who noted that it exceeds statutory budget caps for defense by $70 billion. Without a deal to ease caps, it would trigger an automatic 13 percent cut, known as sequestration, they said.
“This is a step forward, though we remain deeply concerned about the process,” said a joint statement from the Senate Appropriations Committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who is the No. 2 Senate Democrat and vice chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee.
In July, Leahy offered a proposal to increase defense spending in 2018 by $54 billion above spending caps and provide an equal increase in non-defense programs, or “parity.”
Leahy and Durbin on Tuesday again called for parity between the defense and non-defense sides of the budget, as well as protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors — a demand fueling fears of an impasse and government shutdown.
Though federal spending runs out Dec. 8, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has hinted there will be another stopgap continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the government open while lawmakers wrangle. He has said he expects a spending deal to be final by year’s end.
The bill mirrors the 2.4 percent pay raise mandated in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the massive annual defense policy bill that passed both chambers of Congress earlier this month.
Comparisons between the top-line of this bill and the $700 billion NDAA are not easy, as the appropriations bill does not contain all of the same national security accounts as the defense policy bill.
The recommendation notably contains far fewer additional F-35s than the NDAA. The appropriations bill included only $1 billion for four additional F-35B short takeoff and landing variants and another four F-35C carrier landing variants — meaning that the Air Force received no additional F-35A conventional takeoff and landing models, though it listed 14 A-models on its unfunded priorities list. The NDAA, by contrast, added 20 F-35s, 10 of which were A-models.
To soften the blow, Cochran’s mark added an additional $120 million for Air Force F-35 advance procurement “to increase planned procurements in FY2019,” according to a summary of the bill.
The committee also added $100 million for one HC-130J search and rescue aircraft and $35 million for Compass Call modifications.
Cochran’s proposal includes two littoral combat ships, one less than was authorized in the 2018 NDAA conference report. It also buys an aircraft carrier, two Virginia-class attack submarines and two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
He would also fund a survey ship, an amphibious transport dock, an expeditionary fast-transport ship, and offers up $150 million for the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker program.
Boeing’s Super Hornet was a big winner in the draft appropriations bill. As in the NDAA, appropriators added $739 million for another 10 F/A-18E/Fs, which would bring total procurement up to 24 jets and further continue production of the fourth-generation fighter.
The draft bill also carves out $400 million for eight MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
The proposal would plan to fund repairs to both the destroyers Fitzgerald and McCain, damaged in fatal collisions this summer. That tab ran to $673 million. An additional $23 million was set aside to implement changes recommended in the review of the incidents.
Cochran would beef up the Army’s aircraft procurement request by nearly $1 billion above the president’s original request of $4.1 billion. The committee is funding nine additional AH-64E Apache helicopters, at $309 million, for the active Army and eight additional UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters specifically for the Army National Guard for a total of $108 million. Another $90 million will buy 11 UH-72 Lakota helicopters and $247 million will cover the cost of an additional four CH-47G Chinook helicopters for the Special Operations Command.
The Army would also get $327 million more in missiles above its request of $2.5 billion. However, the committee wants a report from the Army and Navy secretaries outlining procedures and policies to be used to better estimate missile procurement needs in the future.
The draft bill would add more than $1 billion to the weapons and tracked combat vehicle procurement account, with a large sum of that funding going to Stryker, Bradley and Abrams upgrade programs. The Army originally asked for $3.4 billion in its FY18 budget request for weapons and tracked combat vehicle procurement.
Cochran wants to provide an additional $1.4 billion above the president’s request of $9.3 billion for missile defense. The majority of that additional funding would accelerate the capacity and capabilities of missile defense programs designed to counter “escalating threats from North Korea,” the lawmakers said.
Congress approved above-threshold reprogramming of $249 million to initiate the expansion of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System designed to protect the homeland from North Korean and Iranian threats by 20 additional ground-based interceptors with a redesigned kill vehicle and the construction of an additional missile field at Fort Greely, Alaska.
And Cochran recommends fully funding the Nov. 6 request from President Trump to supplement the fiscal 2018 budget with money to continue beefing up the GMD system and buy more Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System interceptors and SM-3 Block IIA interceptors.
Cochran would also add $376 million for research, development, test and evaluation to accelerate the “missile detect and defeat capacity and capability enhancements identified and initiated by [the Missile Defense Agency],” a committee report states.
The draft bill adds $329 million above the budget request to accelerate fielding integrated THAAD and Patriot missile defense systems to support a U.S. Pacific Command urgent need.
And the draft bill would increase the MDA budget by $322 million for “unfunded requirements and critical needs, to include enhanced discrimination capabilities, development and fielding of a radar in Hawaii, increased test capabilities and cyber enhancements,” the report states.
Aaron Mehta in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.