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2021 Defense Spending Begins: Senate Votes on $740.5 Billion Bill

The Armed Services Committee passed it nearly unanimously – and now it’s time for a floor vote.

The first switch on the congressional Department of Defense (DoD) money machine is turned on. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jack Reed (D-RI) released a statement announcing that the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) had completed its work on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Bill. Liberty Nation explains the process in detail in our article “National Security, The Defense Budget, and You: A Primer (Part 2 of 2).” The committee vote was near-unanimous with a 25-2 bipartisan agreement. During the SASC subcommittee deliberations, subcommittee members considered 391 amendments to the bill and, in a bipartisan vote, agreed on 229 amendments.

Both Senators Inhofe and Reed were proud of the bill’s bipartisan nature; Senator Inhofe said regarding the subcommittee’s collegial work, “… once again with overwhelming support. There’s a reason for this: It’s because this bill is, to its core, bipartisan, reflecting equal input from Republicans and Democrats alike.” Senator Reed echoed the bipartisan endorsement of the bill, adding, “I commend Chairman Inhofe for his bipartisan leadership, collaboration, and commitment to ensuring our troops have a budget and policies to match their extraordinary courage and sacrifice.”

After that chorus of “kumbaya,” let’s take a look at the markup. The bill supports hefty defense funding of $740.5 billion, with $636.4 billion going directly to the DoD and the rest allocated to other national security requirements shown in the accompanying table. The authorization for the base funding is $3.1 billion more than the amount enacted in for FY2020.The total authorized is the amount requested in the President’s Budget Request for Defense.

The base budget of $636.4 billion funds the Military Departments’ requirements in the funding categories of Operations and Maintenance, Military Personnel, RDT&E (Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation), Procurement of Weapon Systems and Equipment, Military Construction, Family Housing, DoD-Wide requirements, and Military Health Care. Overseas Contingency Operations funds operations like those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas around the world where U.S. forces are engaged in military operations. The DoD budget also includes $25.9 billion that goes to the Department of Energy to support national security nuclear weapons programs. Other funding that is outside the “NDAA Jurisdiction” covers DoD support to other federal agencies.

Significant for the FY21 NDAA is that the funding and authorizing guidance is tied purposefully to the FY 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS).  In fact, the bill supports the NDS and intends to achieve an “irreversible momentum in implementation of the National Defense Strategy.” Language in the bill specifically calls out the requirement for the authorization bill to address “… strategic competition with authoritarian adversaries that stand firmly against our shared American value of freedom, democracy, and peace – namely, China and Russia.” The SASC recognized the need to establish a formidable bulwark against great power competitors so that, as former Secretary of Defense James Mattis said when referring to our adversaries, “you, militarily, cannot win it – so don’t even try.” To that end, the FY21 NDAA makes it very clear that much of the focus is on the threat that China represents.  Liberty Nation has been comprehensive and thorough in its coverage of the danger China poses to U.S. national and global security interests.

When it comes to putting the American taxpayer’s money where the SASC’s mouth is, the subcommittee does not come up wanting. The authorizers funded initiatives to counter China. The bill language acknowledges that years of “underfunding” a balance of military power in Asia have gone by, and little has been done to stand in the way of China’s global and, more specifically, Pacific expansionist momentum. Establishing a greater U.S. presence, the FY21 NDAA authorizes the creation of a Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) that will “send a strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party that America is deeply committed to defending our interests in the Indo-Pacific.”

The PDI is funded at $1.4 billion in FY2021 and has a topline of $5.5 billion for FY2022. Additionally, the bill directs the Secretary of Defense to “create a spend plan for these resources.” Increasing the lethality of the joint forces operating in the Indo-Pacific by improving and enhancing the entire array of missile defense capability and infrastructure.

Equally important and critical to national security is the maintenance of American technological advantage to ensure that the U.S. keeps pace, “through deliberate, knowledge-based development.”

Again, the objective is an emphasis on China and Russia consistent with the NDS. The bill encourages “development of our hypersonic weapons as well as defense against the hypersonic weapons of our competitors.”

On the larger stage of great power competitors, the bill recognizes the importance of having and maintaining credible nuclear deterrence. The authorizers put language in the bill prohibiting any funding for reducing “the quantity or alert status of intercontinental ballistic missiles below 400.”

Support for the nuclear triad, infrastructure, and command and control systems is a significant part of the FY21 NDAA, as are other technology-rich capability requirements. In all the realms of warfare programs – joint capabilities, current weapons programs, and dominance on the seas, land, air, space, and cyberspace – the SASC supported the U.S. having superior capability.

This committee vote on the FY2012 NDAA is the first step in passing an annual FY2021 authorization bill. The bill will go to the full Senate, and, when approved, the Senate version will have to be reconciled with the House of Representatives’ House Armed Services Committee (HASC) counterpart bill. The HASC markup is expected to be released before July 1 and will move to the full House for a floor vote. The congressional budget authorization process is laborious, but the “sausage” is being made.

Then we wait for the congressional appropriations process, and that’s real money.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.


Read more from Dave Patterson.

Read More From Dave Patterson

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