WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday he doesn’t think upcoming economic stimulus packages related to the coronavirus outbreak should include more money for defense, saying other public health needs are more pressing.
“Without question, with the pandemic and the needs of national security and the Defense Department, we’re going to have to spend a lot of money,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., in a teleconference with reporters. “The good news is we have a lot of money.
“The defense [budget] bill last year was $738 billion. I’m not saying that there aren’t needs within the Department of Defense, I’m saying they have a lot of money and ought to spend that money to meet those needs.”
Smith’s comments come as the Pentagon is readying a request for billions in a future economic package under consideration by Congress, which has already passed nearly $3 trillion in emergency funding bills in recent weeks.
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said last week that the Pentagon is working with the White House budget office on a package to aid defense contractors hit by closures or other effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
DoD has already announced it would make $3 billion in expedited “progress payments" to increase cash flow to primary contractors and more vulnerable, smaller subcontractors.
But Smith said his priority in the next stimulus bill is public health, not the defense industry.
“Of all the needs that we face in this country, [my priority is not] to spend more money on basic DoD to go buy more planes or ships or boats or anything like that,” he said.
In an emergency spending package approved earlier this month, lawmakers gave the Defense Department about $10.5 billion in funding for defense health programs and Tricare response to the public health threat, as well as money for National Guard deployments to help state prevention efforts.
Smith has been an advocate of military personnel taking a larger role in conducting and processing coronavirus tests for the general public, saying the Defense Department’s logistical expertise and infrastructure could dramatically speed that work.
He said he would back more money for those efforts, but “I have not seen an argument that makes sense to me [for putting] more money into defense to manufacture things.”
The Senate is scheduled to return to Washington next week, but House lawmakers have postponed any votes for the near future. No timeline has been announced for when the next stimulus package could be completed.