House passes defense policy bill in party-line vote

By Tony Bertuca / July 12, 2019 at 1:57 PM

The House today voted 220-197 to approve a fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill that would support a total national security budget of $733 billion, putting it at odds with the Senate, which passed a version of the bill authorizing $750 billion.

No Republicans voted for the House bill.

Though there was concern earlier in the week that House Democrats could not muster enough support for the bill, only eight Democrats ended up voting with Republican against the bill.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, citing the $17 billion reduction from the administration's FY-20 request and a host of other concerns, including provisions that block the Pentagon from spending money to build barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senior lawmakers on the House floor today lamented the breakdown of bipartisanship and castigated each other for playing politics.

Republicans have generally opposed the bill since it was passed out of the House Armed Services Committee because of its lower topline as well as a measure in the bill that blocks the submarine deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads.

"This is not a moment to be proud," GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said today, adding the bill was the product of "Socialist Democrats."

"The stakes of this year's defense budget are too high to be left to the wild fantasies of the left," he said.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, listed a litany of programs that would be improved with additional funding.

"The direction it has taken is not toward the good, and I would just suggest that members who do care about a strong military . . . consider very carefully their vote on final passage," he said.

Thornberry joined most of his GOP counterparts in voting against the bill.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) today said Republicans were opposing the bill for "purely partisan reasons."

"There was no way the Republican party was ever going to vote for a bill put together by Democrats," he said. "The good news is we have a very good bill."

Smith said the $733 billion topline is commensurate with what the Defense Department had been planning to request and with what senior Republicans, including Thornberry, publicly sought prior to being told by the White House that the administration would back a $750 billion request.

"Only in the minds of a Republican can a $733 billion defense budget that is an increase over last year be a cut," Smith said. "You create the $750 billion request and say you're cutting. We're not cutting. We're increasing."

Though Congress has a 58-year record of passing the defense authorization bill and the legislation typically enjoys bipartisan support, it is not unheard of for the bill to be passed with the support of primarily one party.

In 2015, most House Democrats -- then in the minority -- voted against the bill on the grounds that it shifted Overseas Contingency Operations funds to the DOD base budget to circumvent spending caps and stripped out what they believed were LGBT protections for military contractors.

On the floor today, Smith reminded Republicans that most them voted against the bill in 2010 when Democrats, then in the majority, repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell.

"The only petty partisanship on this bill is coming from the Republican party," he said. "They will not vote for anything Democrats do."

The bill must now be reconciled with the Senate’s version.

To avoid sequestration, Congress must also pass a bipartisan budget deal to lift the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Lawmakers must additionally agree to raise the national debt limit before it expires, which some experts predict could happen later this summer.

While the House Appropriations Committee has passed a defense spending bill in line with the $733 billion authorized by the defense policy bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee has said it will not approve any spending bills until an overall budget agreement can be reached.