By ZOE MORGAN
Washington, D.C. – Members of the House rules committee aired grievances about the negative effect funding caps have on defense spending during a Monday hearing.
The House Committee on Rules met Nov. 13 to review the conference report reached for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA). The bill is the primary piece of legislation that provides funds for the military.
“I think this will help Congress to advance the vital funding that authorizes America’s great military requirements,” chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said. “This final conference report provides all branches of the military with resources and the supplies necessary to fulfilling their many responsibilities.”
The agreement negotiated between the House and Senate provides more than $600 billion of funding for the Department of Defense, including a 2.4 percent pay increase for troops, $8 billion for cyber operations and $4 billion for missile defense system enhancements.
The committee heard testimony about the agreement from the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Armed Services. Throughout the hearing, member of the rules committee, as well as both the representations from armed services, lamented the fact that the bill cannot be fully implemented unless an appropriations deal is reached and budget caps are lifted.
“The substance of this bill is about as good as any one that I’ve worked on in the 21 years that I’ve been here, “ armed services ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA) said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good policy in there. Now we just need to figure out the money.”
The almost $700 billion dollars allocated in the bill exceeds the $549 billion cap set forth in the Budget Control Act, Smith said. The act was passed in 2011 to end the debt ceiling crisis, and implements various spending limits. Members said that the act harms the ability to adequately fund the military and some called for repealing the law altogether.
“We’ve got to make sure that we provide the resources that our armed forces need to do the job we’re asking them to do,” Liz Cheney (R-WY) said. “We cannot do that with the Budget Control Act in place.”
The NDAA’s costs include the extension of existing housing benefits for troops and making survivors’ benefits permanent. Armed services chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) highlighted a program to help military spouses get professional licenses and certification when they have to move to a new state.
“It’s often said you recruit a soldier, but you retain a family,” Thornberry said. “Most spouses these days work. And if you’re a nurse, if you’re a teacher, or all of these other professions, you’ve got to start over every two years.”
The bill also allows certain medical devices to be used on the battlefield that have not received FDA approval. Louise Slaughter (D-WA) asked why this was necessary and expressed concerns about cumbersome FDA approval processes. Smith said that there are certain products, including freeze-dried plasma, that save soldier’s lives, but are produced by foreign companies that aren’t interested in pursuing FDA approval.
“There are a lot of people out there that feel that the FDA moves too slowly,” Smith said. “We’re not diving into that, we’re trying to do a very, very tight area for our troops on the battlefield.”
Broader questions were also raised about troop readiness, and the skewed make-up of the military. Doug Collins (R-GA) said that the increase in enlistment bonuses and lowering of standards for troops is concerning. He said that there is a disconnect between those serving in the military and the general public.
Thornberry said that especially when the economy is doing well, the military has to compete with colleges and employers to attract top talent. Under these conditions, bonuses help send a message that military members are valued, Thornberry said. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) suggested that a draft could be a potential solution to problems with military recruitment.
Despite debate over the path of the military going forward, members of the committee from both sides of the aisle praised the bipartisan nature of the NDAA. The bill was passed 344 to 81 in the House and 89 to 8 in the Senate.
“This is the sort of regular process most of us learn about in our civics books,” Thornberry said. “And I think it is important to send a message to the men and women who risk their lives for us that the institution of the Congress is functioning and supports them.”
Members agreed that the bill is crucial to maintaining troop readiness and the strength of the armed forces.
“At a time of increased threats throughout the world, the NDAA strives to ensure that the military forces are agile, efficient, ready and lethal,” Sessions said.