Senate ups R&D spending in defense appropriations bill, battle still brewing on wall funding

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The 2020 Senate defense appropriation’s bill offers a $20.5 billion increase to the Pentagon next year, along with an extra $1.7 billion in emergency funds to rebuild military bases razed by Hurricanes Michael and Florence.

The full appropriations committee will consider the $695.6 billion bill on Thursday. The bill encompasses most of the Pentagon’s budget — separate bills address military construction funds and parts of the defense budget that fall under the Energy Department— and is in line with the recent budget deal, which allows the Defense Department a grand total of $738 billion for 2020.

The legislation puts $622.5 billion in the base budget and $70.7 billion in an emergency war fund called the overseas contingency operations budget.

What’s most notable about the bill is the continued increase in research and development spending. The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee gave R&D $105.1 billion, an increase of $9 billion from 2019 and more than $800 million above the presidential request.

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“This bill continues increases in funding for our nation’s defense that meet the objectives of the National Defense Strategy by improving readiness, investing in innovation, and bolstering the combat effectiveness of the Department of Defense,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). “The bill includes significant investments in both basic research and future technologies such as hypersonics, 5G, artificial intelligence, missile defense, and cybersecurity.  We must continue to make investments today that demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that our armed forces are well-trained, well-equipped and better prepared than any other around the world, and this bill does that.”

The bill puts about $300 million extra in university research for the military services and DoD. It supports an additional $436 million for 5G investments, $341 million for cybersecurity enhancements, $165 for DoD’s rapid procuring Strategic Capabilities Office and $127 million for manufacturing and science technology.

The bill also calls for an additional $253.3 million for upgrades of test and evaluation infrastructure for technologies critical to the National Defense Strategy like hypersonics, space and directed energy.

During the rollout of the 2020 budget request from DoD, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said the budget is the largest research, development, test and evaluation request in 70 years.

The emphasis on R&D is spurred by DoD’s focus on near-peer competitors like China and Russia. DoD’s is trying to maintain its technological advantage after nearly 20 years of fighting in the Middle East.

The 2020 budget is the first budget where the Pentagon could really focus on the National Defense Strategy. Past budgets went to bolstering readiness within the force, which degraded due to sequestration and multiple years of continuing resolutions.

The appropriations bill also gives the military a 3.1% raise and supports the budget request for the operations and maintenance of the Space Force.

Battle brewing

While the Senate appropriations bill is largely in line with the House version of the bill, one sticking point could causing a delay in funds for DoD or even a possible shutdown.

The Trump administration wants to use $3.6 billion in military construction funds that were appropriated in previous years for 2020 to build a wall on the southern border. The funds that will be taken from the 2020 budget and include an ambulatory care center, cyber operations facility, ship maintenance facilities, schools for service members’ children and more.

Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Ranking Member Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lamented the fact that the bill did not prohibit the transfer of those funds.

“The basis of these cancellations is based on a national emergency declared by the president that was rejected on its face by both houses on Congress in bipartisan votes,” Durbin said during the Tuesday subcommittee markup of the bill. “Congress cannot and should not be silent when the power of the purse is undermined in this way. Why are we here? Why do we have an Appropriations Committee if this president can ask for money for certain purposes we appropriated and then he ignores us? He then takes the money for his own political agenda.”

House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman John Garamendi said Tuesday that he will not support reimbursing DoD for the 127 projects the president is taking from to build the wall.

“The new congressional budget agreement prevents us from doing so without raiding funds from other accounts. I made myself clear: Congress will not backfill these accounts,” Garamendi said. “We will not allow the president to defy the constitution by circumventing Congress’ power of the purse. This fight is about the very nature of our democracy, and we will not lose.”

Virginia Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner also released a statement Tuesday against the use of military funds for the wall.

“I’m deeply concerned about President Trump’s plan to pull funding from critical national security projects – including millions of dollars from important projects in Virginia – so he can build his border wall,” Kaine said. “The well-being of American troops is the core responsibility of every commander in the military, yet the Commander-in-Chief is shirking that duty so he can advance his own political agenda.”

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