The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday narrowly advanced 26-20 an arms sale bill largely along party lines that has pitted defense industry groups against arms control advocates. Despite the near party-line vote, the legislation emerged from a bipartisan taskforce meant to address substantial U.S. foreign military sales delays across the board, including to Taiwan.
The main point of contention in the Tiger Act, introduced by task force leader Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., is a provision raising the dollar threshold at which the president can approve an arms transfer without notifying Congress from $14 million to $23 million. It also raises the threshold for the sale of defense articles, upgrades, related training or other services without congressional notification from $50 million to $83 million. Additionally, it paves the way for the State Department to make use of the Pentagon’s Special Defense Acquisition Fund, a revolving account used to procure weapons for foreign military sales.
“We should arm our allies and simplify the bureaucracy so they can do the fighting for our interests and less involve the United States,” Waltz said before the vote. “This is about jobs. This is about empowering our allies to fight for themselves.”
The bill is backed by the National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association. Its proponents note the new numbers simply reflect inflation since 2003, when Congress last adjusted the thresholds.
But a coalition of 17 arms control and human rights groups, led by the Center for Civilians in Conflict and the Middle East Democracy Center, sent a letter to lawmakers last week arguing the bill cedes congressional oversight authority by hindering lawmakers’ ability to place holds on sales over human rights concerns.
Opponents of raising congressional notification requirements point to a 2020 State Department Inspector General report, which found the Trump administration approved 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates amounting to $11.2 billion between Jan. 2017 and Aug. 2020.
The House established the foreign military sales task force last year to spearhead legislative efforts meant to expedite the unwieldy arms sale process amid a multibillion-dollar arms sale backlog across the world, from Taiwan to Saudi Arabia. The backlogs are caused by a confluence of U.S. industrial base constraints, contracting delays and lengthy review processes.
“Many of the most significant hurdles lie within the defense industry’s production constraints and inefficiencies within the executive branch,” Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., said ahead of the vote. “The congressional review process is not the problem.”
Waltz noted the bill is only the task force’s first stab at expediting the arms sale process. The House is expected to consider additional foreign military sales legislation when it takes up the fiscal 2025 defense policy bill.
The arms sale task force included two Democrats, Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Jason Crow of Colorado.
After an agreement with Moulton, the latest version of the Waltz bill includes a provision that would require a congressional notification for sales to a country once they exceed a cumulative threshold of $1 billion over three years. That threshold increases to $5 billion over three years for NATO countries and other close U.S. allies. It is unclear what other changes lawmakers made at the markup because the Foreign Affairs Committee did not publicly release the latest text of the bill before the vote.
Still, the agreement with Moulton, who sits on the Armed Services but not the Foreign Affairs Committee, was not enough to win the support of most Democrats. Crow issued a dissenting opinion to the Republican-dominated task force.
“While the task force received input from a limited number of stakeholders, the process was non-inclusive,” Crow wrote in his dissent, obtained by Defense News. “The task force did not receive needed input from leaders in civil society, arms control experts or the human rights community.”
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., accused Waltz’s legislation of “parroting” the defense industry, noting that 95% of foreign military sale cases are approved within 48 hours.
“That’s not very slow,” Titus said before the vote. “It just focused its efforts on undermining congressional oversight mechanisms simply for the sake of expediency.”
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.