Pentagon finally gets its 2020 budget from Congress

Joe Gould

WASHINGTON ― Three months late, the U.S. military finally has its budget for fiscal 2020.

Congress on Thursday sent President Donald Trump the final version of the 2020 defense appropriations bill, part of a broad $1.4 trillion spending deal to finalize federal spending for 2020 and avert a government shutdown. The defense bill would provide $738 billion.

On Thursday, the Senate passed the two spending packages that make up the deal, sending it to the White House, where the president is expected to sign it into law. Funding was in danger of expiring late Friday.

The defense bill dedicates $40 million to establish a new, sixth armed service service for space, which was $32 million less than the administration’s request. Even as Congress approved a sweeping defense policy bill this week that re-designates Air Force Space Command, it included language to prohibit any new billets, meaning the organization must be built with existing forces.

There’s $146 billion for a broad laundry list of military hardware, to include $1.87 billion for 98 F-35 aircraft, which is 20 more than the president’s request, and eight F-15EX aircraft to recapitalize the F-15C/D fleet. Among other provisions asserting Congress’ power of the purse, the bill bucks the Army’s wishes to include $28 million in advance procurement funds for the newest variant of the CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter.

As the House passed the packages Tuesday, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Rep. Ken Calvert, touted the defense bill’s increase of roughly $20 billion over 2019. “The bill increases funding for operations and maintenance, and procurement for the next generation of equipment to ensure our men and women in uniform always have the tactical advantage,” he said.

Democrats said they were proud the two compromise packages included all 12 appropriations bills, providing government agencies with new certainty. The government has been operating under restrictive stop-gap continuing resolutions since the start of the fiscal year, Oct. 1

“I know there’s a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth of how awful the CR is for the Defense Department. I agree with that,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday. “But there ought to be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth about the adverse effect on non-defense agencies, because the effect is the same: Uncertainty and an inability to operate in any kind of regular-order fashion.”

The budget deal took months to come together, amid partisan fights over funding for Trump’s wall project at the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the crux of a new deal, the White House will get $1.375 billion in Homeland Security funds for the wall ― significantly less than the $5 billion Trump sought ― and no money to backfill the $3.6 billion in military construction funds the administration moved this year for the project. Democrats, in exchange, abandoned language to lower limits on the amount the military can shift between accounts, from $9.5 billion to $1.5 billion.

House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., trumpeted the bill’s provisions for military families, but was “very disappointed” to leave out language that would have “restricted the ability of the administration to reprogram defense funding for the border wall.”

Alluding to criticism the Defense Department circumvented Congress by allowing its funds to be shifted to the border wall, Visclosky said, “The [Defense] Department’s actions in the past year have fundamentally damaged its relationship with this committee."