Senate defense bill funds Space Force, pares border wall plan

May 23, 2019

Senate leaders released their first draft Thursday of a $750 billion blueprint for the Defense Department, giving President Trump a victory on the top-line spending and the establishment of a Space Force, but paring back his requests for a border wall with Mexico.

The overall figure is in line with Mr. Trump’s initial defense budget request released in March and is a boost of about $34 billion for the Defense Department compared with the fiscal 2019 budget.

The bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee’s defense authorization bill addresses a host of issues, including national security, domestic needs for the military and sanctions on NATO ally Turkey for its plan to buy a Russian missile defense system.

The proposal would prohibit the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara concludes a deal to purchase the Russian S-400 air missile defense system. Turkish officials said they aren’t backing down on the deal, which the U.S. and other NATO countries fear could compromise the alliance’s defensive strategies.

The blueprint bans any funding to transfer the F-35 or related equipment and intellectual property to Ankara unless the secretary of defense and secretary of state can confirm that Turkey is not buying and deploying the Russian system, a senior committee aide confirmed.

The defense authorization bill also allocates money to build new weapons and modernized ships and aircraft aimed at “maintaining our nuclear weapons ... and protecting our cybernetworks to keep up with our adversaries,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee’s ranking Democrat. Mr. Reed spoke on behalf of Chairman James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, who missed the rollout to be with his wife, who broke her leg Wednesday night.

The committee “made sure we’ve got the capabilities needed” to counter “great-power competitors like Russia and China and real regime like Iran and North Korea,” he said.

Funding for Mr. Trump’s Space Force is included in the draft as a component of the Air Force, a significant victory for Mr. Trump and supporters of the concept, who cited increasing competition from adversaries to defend U.S. space assets and faced skepticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Senior committee aides said that while the Space Force will have its own commander and funds for preliminary needs, authorization for the new command and potential sixth branch of the military will be required and will not take effect until one year after the National Defense Authorization Act is passed.

“Our strategy will set the Space Force up for success now and in the future by minimizing bureaucracy,” Mr. Inhofe said in a statement.

The House Armed Services Committee, where Democrats have the majority, is preparing its version of the legislation. The draft is traditionally a vehicle for setting the budget for the Pentagon and for weighing policy issues such as funding for a Space Force, which has been a source of tense questioning by House lawmakers.

Using Pentagon funds to help build Mr. Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border is set to ignite a contentious battle between the two committees.

In the Senate’s proposal, $3.6 billion of the overseas contingency funds would be targeted for construction projects along the southern border, well below the $8.6 billion Mr. Trump requested in his initial budget proposal in March for a border wall. The shortfall could portend another showdown ahead of Oct. 1, the start of next federal fiscal year.

As for domestic requirements for troops and their families, Mr. Reed said, the bipartisan draft addresses the “unacceptable state of military privatized family housing” and provides a 3.1% pay increase for troops.

A senior committee aide said the budget also mandates the Pentagon to “take a look at alternative systems in preventing sexual assault.” If authorized, the bill will include multiple provisions to improve the response to sexual misconduct and system of reporting an incident within the military.

“We are tackling the issue from every angle we can,” the aide said.

Mr. Inhofe expressed confidence in his committee’s budget and said the proposal is the “bare minimum we need for our forces to address threat we face.”

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