Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the amount the bill authorizes for SLCM-N research and development. It authorizes $190 million.
WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 24-1 to advance its $886 billion defense authorization bill with nonbinding language geared at boosting the Pentagon budget above the spending caps mandated in the recent debt ceiling deal.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was the lone senator to vote against advancing the bill after a three-day markup that included consideration of more than 400 amendments.
A summary accompanying the Senate’s fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act states that the bill includes nonbinding language expressing the sense “that there are growing national security concerns that require additional funds beyond the defense spending limit and urges the President to send emergency supplemental funding requests to address those concerns.”
The legislation says those emergency funds would include “continued support for Ukraine, additional munitions production and additional naval vessels and combat vehicles.”
House Republicans and the White House brokered a deal to raise the debt ceiling. As part of that agreement, they capped defense spending at President Joe Biden’s requested $886 billion level, a 3.3% increase over this year, while cutting non-defense spending to $704 billion.
Immediately after, a group of senators — including Democratic Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed of Rhode Island — floated bypassing the deal’s defense spending cap by putting non-Ukraine-related military spending into the next aid package for Kyiv.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement the FY24 National Defense Authorization Act “does not adequately fund our defense needs, and I will work to increase the Department of Defense top level as the bill progresses.”
He added a higher top line is “the best way to deter conflict around the globe. I am glad Chairman Reed has also expressed support for higher defense expenditures.”
Wicker and other Republicans have criticized the 3.3% defense spending increase as insufficient because it fails to keep pace with inflation.
House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., whose committee advanced its own version of the same bill on Thursday with an $874 billion top line, also hopes to bypass the defense spending caps — though his bill does not include the Senate’s language asking for Pentagon supplemental funding. Rogers is framing the extra defense spending he wants as a China supplemental bill, rather than a Ukraine package.
Rogers’ remarks in early June came one day after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., poured cold water on extra defense spending, reminding reporters the Pentagon has failed five audits.
“I consider myself a hawk, but I don’t want to waste money,” McCarthy told CNN. “So, I think we’ve got to find efficiencies.”
Top line disputes aside, the Senate defense policy bill contains several similar provisions to the House bill.
That includes a provision that would halt new construction at the temporary Space Command facility in Colorado Springs while freezing half of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s budget until he makes a months-overdue decision about whether to keep the combatant command there or move it to Huntsville, Alabama as previously planned. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., sits on the Armed Services Committee while his two Colorado counterparts do not.
Like the House legislation, the Senate bill institutionalizes the sea-launched cruise missile nuclear program while providing approximately $190 million in FY24 for its continued research and development. The Biden administration has sought to scrap research on SLCM-N and did not request funding for it in FY24.
Asia and Europe
Both bills include a provision that would require the Defense Department to cooperate with Taiwan on cybersecurity.
On top of that, the Senate bill authorizes training for the Taiwanese military, without specifying whether that should take place on the island or elsewhere. The House Appropriations Committee allocated $108 million for defense articles and services to Taiwan, including military training, when it advanced its defense spending bill on Thursday.
Lawmakers expect Taiwan will need that training to use U.S. equipment if the Biden administration proceeds with plans to send the island weapons from existing U.S. stockpiles. The House foreign aid spending panel also advanced separate legislation on Friday that would give Taiwan $500 million in State Department-administered grants for Taipei to purchase U.S. weapons.
The Senate’s FY24 National Defense Authorization Act also makes Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan eligible for U.S. border security assistance.
Meanwhile, it funds the Pentagon’s $9.1 billion request for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. The bill also fully authorizes the Biden administration’s $3.6 billion funding request for the European Deterrence Initiative, which can be used to support allies backing Kyiv, and another $300 million for the Pentagon’s funding request for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
It establishes an Indo-Pacific Campaigning Initiative, with the bill summary noting the aim is to increase “frequency and scale of exercise, freedom of navigation operations and partner engagements” in the region.
House Republicans cited the proposed amphibious ship pause as part of their justification for using their bill to abolish the Pentagon’s independent Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office and move its duties elsewhere.
The Senate Armed Services Committee did not share the House’s concerns and instead inserted language endorsing the independent cost assessment office while also seeking more information as to how it arrives at its evaluations.
Lastly, the Senate bill joins the House defense authorization bill in allowing the Air Force to retire 42 A-10 Warthog attack planes after long blocking those efforts.
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.