WASHINGTON Battles over the size of the defense budget and partisan recriminations over the United States’ exit from Afghanistan are expected to dominate the House Armed Services Committee’s marathon markup on its annual political bill on Wednesday.
On Monday, centrist Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia became the only Democrat to vote for a Republican amendment to raise the bill’s revenue by $ 25 billion. Because the Democrats on the panel hold a two-seat majority, Democrats can’t afford more defectors if Republicans unite.
Luria told Defense News this week that she believes other Democrats will join her.
“For this to pass, at least two Democrats have to agree, and I would say that at the end of the day when people see what’s here, it’s probably going to be more than that,” he said. she said about the amendment. .
“Everyone has found something in this budget where they think it missed the mark, and adding, I think it will alleviate the concerns of a wide range of Democrats who have found loopholes in this budget proposal. “Luria added.
The markup should expose divisions among Democrats over the appropriate size of the defense budget. While Republicans and some Democrats have said the Biden’s $ 716 billion Pentagon proposal was insufficient to deter Russia and China, some progressives have called for defense cuts to bolster national priorities.
HASC Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., Proposed a bill that fits Biden’s top line.
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The $ 25 billion amendment from HASC rank member Mike Rogers of Alabama includes $ 9.8 billion for weapons purchase programs, reversing some divestments the Biden administration had planned in order to prioritize advanced technologies. The Rogers Amendment proposes an additional $ 5.2 billion for research and development, including emerging technologies, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.
Luria said she supports the amendment in part because it would prevent the Navy from decommissioning three aging cruisers, add a second Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and help stabilize the shipbuilding industry.
“My argument is that of course we have to get new technology and advance it, but in the meantime we cannot drain the strength that we have in the hope of having a new strength with new technology later. “said Luria. “Essentially reducing the Navy is not in line with the statement [from the Pentagon] that China is our No.1 threat.
Rogers expressed confidence the amendment would pass in committee and pave the way for the bill’s approval by the panel on a bipartisan basis, a goal Smith said he was pursuing.
“This NDAA is going to fade away [of HASC], probably Thursday morning, with bipartisan support, with a significant increase of $ 25 billion on top of what the president asked for, ”Rogers said Monday.
Democrats are getting political cover for the increase after the Senate Armed Services Committee, on a bipartisan basis, brought forward a bill with its own $ 25 billion increase last month. On the other hand, Democratic aides say the pressure to approve the increase is on Democrats, especially as Biden faces a backlash on Afghanistan.
The GOP campaign arm has already launched Afghanistan-themed attacks on Democrats facing tough re-election battles, according to a Democratic House aide.
“If they vote against more defense spending, they will be hit twice as hard,” the aide said, adding: “I think Republicans are very clearly winning the war of messages on Afghanistan. , and you can tie the $ 25 billion to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. easily. “
HASC NDAA surcharges typically last all day and extend into the next morning, and Democrats are preparing for a long job on the subject of the withdrawal.
“There is going to be so much demagoguery, so many messaging amendments, so many arguments, so many infighting over this issue,” the aide said. “This will probably be the source of the greatest annoyance as we walk through this markup.”
Hours before the official end of the US military engagement in Afghanistan on Monday, Rogers and parliamentary minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Said Republicans were planning a storm of amendments responding to Republican criticism of the exit. military.
“We will use all legislative possibilities to make this case,” McCarthy said, although his options are limited with the Democrats controlling the House.
On Monday, Rogers said he had about 50 GOP amendments regarding what Republicans see as Biden’s failures regarding Afghanistan, promising “vigorous debate within the NDAA.” Among them are measures requiring the administration to brief lawmakers on terrorist groups that may develop under Taliban control and to detail the decision to withdraw the military from Bagram air base.
Evacuees Decline As U.S. Heads To Last Day Of Boots On The Ground In Afghanistan
Another move is a move by Representative Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Who would keep US troops in Afghanistan until all Americans are evacuated. He also orders an accounting of the American and military materiel that the United States left in Afghanistan and forbids the United States to recognize the Taliban regime or to send it aid.
The head of the US Central Command said on Monday that the United States had left 73 planes, 70 MRAPs and 27 Humvees unusable. However, Republicans blamed Biden for the wider array of modern military equipment captured by the Taliban forces when they invaded Afghan forces who failed to defend the district centers.
“It’s time for Congress to step up because the administration is spoiling this pullout,” Gallagher said at a separate Republican press conference on Tuesday. ” Its a question of life or death. We don’t leave our people behind.
A bipartisan point of overlap between Smith and Rogers is that they want the administration to detail its counterterrorism strategy for South Asia in light of threats posed by al Qaeda and the Islamic State affiliate. in Afghanistan. But while Smith has said he wants his panel to oversee the United States’ exit from Afghanistan, some Democrats are concerned about the markup as a venue.
“I’m afraid this is a free-for-all,” a Democratic aide told the committee last week.