House appropriators pass defense spending bill in party-line vote

By Tony Bertuca / June 22, 2023 at 4:53 PM

The GOP-led House Appropriations Committee voted 34-24 today to pass its version of the fiscal year 2024 defense spending bill amid opposition from Democrats, who opposed the legislation over politically charged policy riders related to abortion as well as diversity, equity and inclusion and climate change.

The bill, which is aligned with a national defense topline of $886 billion for fiscal year 2024, cuts President Biden’s request for weapons procurement by nearly $4 billion, targeting some of the multiyear missile buys sought by the Pentagon.

However, the bill increases the Pentagon’s research, development, test and evaluation account by nearly $2 billion and the department’s operations and maintenance account by nearly $3 billion.

The bill’s specific jurisdiction covers $826.45 billion in new discretionary spending, which is $285.87 million over President Biden’s budget request and 3.6% above what lawmakers enacted in FY-23.

The committee today, however, spent most of its hearing on the bill arguing over its inclusion of "conservative priorities" related to abortion, DEI policies and climate change.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said the bill’s conservative policy provisions were put in place because the GOP believes they will help steer the Pentagon away from “culture wars.”

But Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the subcommittee’s ranking member, decried the provisions as divisive.

“I did not see many of these new general provisions coming -- especially on the defense bill,” she said.

Meanwhile, many lawmakers who spoke at the committee’s hearing today to consider the bill said they believe it cannot be signed into law with Senate support as it is and urged compromise.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-IA) said he believes the debate about the bill today is the “start of a process,” but warned that a stopgap continuing resolution would be disastrous if lawmakers cannot pass all their spending bills on time.

“We're not going to settle this issue today and we all know that,” he said. “The only outcome in this bill would be a CR at the end of it. We cannot end up in a CR.”

The debt limit agreement Congress passed last month contains a provision that would implement an across-the-board 1% cut to federal spending if lawmakers pass a CR.

“We certainly don't need to cut last year's number by 1%,” he said.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) issued the same warning.

“We're going to get hit with a '23 enacted minus 1%,” he said. “I hope that everybody will kind of lock arms. Both sides are probably going to have to give up a little bit.”

But Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) said the bill contains too may “poison pills” like the banning of the Pentagon’s travel and leave policies for servicemembers seeking abortion services to the defunding of the DEI initiatives.

“I would much rather be spending our time on how we can compete with China,” he said.