WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee wants to pass a supplemental spending bill this year to address threats from China, he told reporters Tuesday, while also suggesting the next Ukraine aid package would come in “at a much smaller level” than before.
The proposition from Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., comes amid a flurry of proposals from defense hawks on Capitol Hill to bypass the $886 billion military spending top line laid out in the debt ceiling deal that President Joe Biden signed into law over the weekend. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., appeared to throw cold water on additional defense spending bills on Monday.
Rogers said once Congress completes work on the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act and defense appropriations bill, “then it’s time for us to look and see if we actually address China. If we did, fine. If we didn’t, we’ll go ahead and drop more funding. It’s all about China for me.”
The House was initially slated to mark up the FY24 defense authorization bill in May, but Republican leaders asked Rogers to postpone it amid the debt ceiling negotiations. That markup is now scheduled for later this month.
For his part, McCarthy resisted efforts to circumvent military spending caps in the debt ceiling bill, which locks in Biden’s proposed defense budget — a 3.3% increase over this fiscal year.
“What we really need to do, we need to get the efficiencies in the Pentagon,” McCarthy said, according to CNN. “Think about it, $886 billion. You don’t think there’s waste? They failed the last five audits. I consider myself a hawk, but I don’t want to waste money. So I think we’ve got to find efficiencies.”
In response, Rogers said McCarthy is “right.”
“It is premature to be talking about a supplemental right now, but we will need a supplemental later this year — for China specifically,” Rogers said.
Rogers, who previously hammered the Biden administration for refusing to deliver Ukraine certain weapons like long-range missiles, also struck a less bullish note on aid to the country currently fighting a Russian invasion.
“Based on how effective the counteroffensive is this summer, and if there is a ceasefire or some resolution by the end of September, I’ll probably have to revisit Ukraine then, at a much smaller level than anything we’ve done before,” Rogers told Defense News.
The Pentagon did not include additional Ukraine aid in its FY24 budget request, noting that it would request future aid packages through supplemental spending that Congress would have to approve. The Defense Department expects to run out of Ukraine aid funds by the end of the fiscal year in September.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., last week floated the idea of adding additional Pentagon spending in the next Ukraine aid supplemental. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., endorsed additional supplemental spending packages Thursday on the Senate floor in order to ease concerns over the debt ceiling deal from defense hawks, primarily Republicans who argued the defense top line increase falls below the rate of inflation.
Further complicating matters, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has testified that the Pentagon is preparing a package to transfer weapons to Taiwan, but that he would require congressional appropriations to backfill U.S. military stockpiles.
However, the appetite for additional defense supplemental spending in the House — be that to counter China or to support Ukraine or Taiwan — remains unclear.
“Unless there is a willingness to increase domestic spending at the same time, we have a law that is a guide,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, told reporters Tuesday.
Still, DeLauro did not rule out additional Ukraine aid spending, noting she funded four supplementals for Kyiv last year as the top appropriator.
“I will wait to hear from [the Defense Department] about what we need for Ukraine,” DeLauro told Defense News.
Total defense spending for FY23 — which ends Sept. 30 — will come to $893 billion after accounting for $35.4 billion in emergency Ukraine aid. Total FY22 defense spending came to $794 billion after Congress allocated an additional $26 billion in Ukraine aid.
Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee’s defense panel, has also supported Ukraine aid but voiced concern about whether the House could pass it given opposition from a vocal minority of Republican lawmakers.
“It’s a chaos caucus, so I don’t know if they’ll be able to bring it to the floor,” McCollum told Defense News.
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.