WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Wednesday offered new and conflicting plans for defense spending next year, teeing up intense congressional debate in the coming months over the right level of military funding for fiscal 2023.
Lawmakers appear to agree the White House plan for military spending next year — about $773 billion, roughly a 4% increase from current spending levels — will be the floor for the defense budget plan.
But the figures could go much higher as centrist Democrats and Republicans push progressives and Democratic leaders to spend more because of inflation, increasing worldwide threats and lingering unmet military needs.
On Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee agreed to increase defense spending by $37 billion over White House plans as part of their debate on the annual defense authorization bill.
Centrist Democrats and Republican representatives won out in a vote over Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and other administration supporters.
At the same time, in a neighboring building on Capitol Hill, House Appropriations Committee members offered support for a more modest $4 billion increase. Republicans and moderate Democrats there lost the fight for more money, but signaled they’ll push for a bigger plus-up as the process moves along.
All of that comes less than a week after Senate Armed Services Committee officials backed a $45 billion increase in defense spending above President Joe Biden’s budget outline — almost 10% above this year’s spending levels — as part of their annual authorization bill draft.
Altogether, the jockeying appears to signal another significant boost in available money for defense personnel, equipment and training next year. The question is exactly how much more, and whether that will be enough to counter rising inflation.
The House Armed Services Committee funding increase was led by Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Elaine Luria D-Va.. They heralded the 42-17 vote in favor of the additional money as a sign of bipartisan support for properly supporting the military.
Their amendment includes $7.4 billion to fight inflation, more than $4 billion for ship procurement and maintenance, another $1.6 billion for research and development and $550 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative — $100 million more for the Ukrainian military aid account than in the draft legislation released Monday.
Luria, who had strongly criticized Biden’s defense budget and had called for a 3% to 5% increase in spending over inflation, also praised the Senate Armed Services Committee for authorizing a $45 billion increase when it marked up its version of the legislation last week.
She said she expects the final defense budget to “land somewhere north” of the amendment’s $37 billion increase when the House and Senate negotiate final legislation later this year.
Leaders on the House Appropriations Committee said they will fight that.
In that panel’s markup, Democrats said their modest increase above Biden’s spending plan was sufficient for military needs, while still providing money to help Ukraine and replenish military equipment.
“It does us no good to invest in high tech weapons if we cannot overcome basic logistical challenges like getting the right equipment to our troops when they are needed,” said Betty McCollum, D-Minn., the chairwoman of the defense appropriations panel. “And it makes no difference how many ships we order for our Navy if we cannot build or maintain them in our existing shipyards.”
Republicans disagreed with that view.
“These allocations do not adequately fund our military.” said the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas. “With increasing threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, underfunding our nation’s defense is completely misguided.”
Democrats only hold a 12-seat majority in the House, meaning they can only afford a few defections when they hold floor votes on the defense appropriations and authorization bills later this year.
The margins in the Senate are even tighter, with a 50-50 split and rules that require 60 votes to advance most legislation. Without Republican support for a defense spending plan, the issue is likely to linger late into fall, past the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.