Pentagon Budget Becomes a Foreign Policy Battleground

May 24th, 2019 - by Jason Ditz /

Senate Committee Rejects Requiring Congress Sign Off on Iran War

Senate Committee Rejects Requiring Congress Sign Off on Iran War.Senators Murphy and Udall push to block unauthorized attack

Jason Ditz /

WASHINGTON (May 22, 2019) — Congress never authorized a US war in Iran. Under the US Constitution, Congress has sole authority to do that, so that’s seemingly an important deal. With the US engaged in other unauthorized wars, however, it has been little more than a side note, and the Trump Administration has considered Congressional involvement in the process to be optional, at best.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) led an effort on Wednesday to try to reassert Congressional authority, by trying to preemptively de-fund any US war against Iran unless Congress authorized it ahead of time.

This proposal was brought forward at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and immediately failed, 13-9. Murphy said this vote would remind the administration that they don’t have authorization for the war.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan downplayed the matter anyhow, insisting that the US is focusing on “deterrence, not war,” suggesting only Iranian miscalculation really threatened a war.

Pentagon Budget Bill Would End 2001 War Authorization

Pentagon Budget Bill Would End 2001 War Authorization. Bill aims to curb president’s powers to unilaterally make war.

Jason Ditz /

(May 21, 2019) — In a 30-22 vote on Tuesday, the House military spending bill advanced through committee. This bill supported by the Democratic leadership is likely to face substantial differences with the Senate’s alternative.

The bill seeks to break new ground on a number of issues, and in particular seeks to limit the president’s ability to unilaterally make war, and prevent the Pentagon from shuffling huge amounts of money around in the budget.

The bill would immediately de-fund US involvement in the war in Yemen, and would set an eight-month sunset on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), on which myriad US wars are nominally based.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) was critical of the expiration of the AUMF, insisting it must be replaced with something else that would justify those wars. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said the eight-month clause gives Congress ample time to debate a new war authorization.

Attempts to de-fund the Yemen War were pushed by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD). Congress already voted to end the war on the grounds it was never authorized, though President Trump vetoed this. The alternative of cutting the money from the war could not itself be vetoed.

The bill approves a 3.1% military pay raise, but rejects skirting spending caps by putting $100 billion into the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget. It also rejected a $72 million request to build a Space Force headquarters.

Senate Panel Advances $750 Billion Military Budget, Setting Up Battle With House

Bill would limit Trump’s ability to withdraw from NATO

Jason Ditz /

(May 23, 2019) — Just days after the House military spending bill advanced through committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee has passed its own $750 billion military spending bill for 2020. Senate officials presented it as a “realistic” plan to increase spending.
The Senate version of the bill broadly excluded the clauses in the House version, like the call to cancel the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, and the de-funding of the Yemen War.

Since the two houses of Congress are led by opposite parties, the attempt to try to get the two versions in line will likely turn into an ugly political battle. The 3.1% military pay raise is one of very few topics of agreement.

Not that the Senate version doesn’t include its own policy diktats. One of the provisions in their version aims to prevent President Trump withdrawing from NATO by blocking funding for any effort to withdraw from Europe if the US is in the process of leaving NATO.

The bill also aims to “target China” on several fronts, mostly by spending more money buying weapons, and doing more screening of Chinese people and creating lists of Chinese “students and researchers.”

Efforts to prohibit a US attack on Iran failed in committee, but Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) says that he still intends to push for such a resolution once again when it comes to a floor vote.

Democrats’ Pentagon Budget Bill Would Curb Trump’s War Powers

Joe Gould / Defense News

WASHINGTON ― A House defense spending bill that aims to end the post-2001 war authorizations after eight months, pull military support in Yemen and fund the Pentagon at $8 billion less than what the White House requested, advanced out of committee in a 30-22 vote Tuesday.

Exemplifying the Democratic-controlled House’s willingness to check President Donald Trump on foreign policy and military matters, the House Appropriations Committee’s bill revives the years-old war authorization debate amid heightened tension between the US and Iran. It also tees up fights with the GOP-led Senate and the White House over the bill’s $690.2 billion defense top line for 2020.

Partisan policy disputes eclipsed top-line talk as the committee marked up the bill. The real debate over how much to raise budget caps for the defense and nondefense sides of the budget was happening at a meeting between White House officials and Congress’ four top party leaders Tuesday morning.

At the markup, lead Republicans opposed the bill absent a larger spending agreement with the White House, voicing fears that without a deal, budget caps would be exceeded, triggering steep sequestration budget cuts.

They also opposed language to restrict the Pentagon’s authority to transfer money between accounts to $1.5 billion ― a response from Democrats to Trump’s use of defense funds for his proposed border wall that the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Kay Granger, called “a poison pill.”

“The bill includes many critical investments, which is why it’s so unfortunate that important initiatives that have broad support are overshadowed by new restrictions on the department’s ability to provide lawful assistance to other agencies in combating the real crisis on our southern border,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., the ranking member on the committee’s defense subpanel.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and other Democrats touted the bill’s 3.1 percent military pay raise and other personnel-focused spending as well as its rejection of Trump’s plans to get around mandatory spending caps by shifting almost $100 billion extra into the overseas war account.

The bill also rejects the Pentagon’s request for $72 million to build a Space Force headquarters and instead grants $15 million so it can explore alternatives. The bill also strips funding from the Pentagon’s JEDI cloud computing program.

The Republican minority was unsuccessful in fending off other language targeting the administration, chiefly California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to sunset the 2001 authorization of the use of military force, or AUMF. Calvert and other Republicans said the 2001 AUMF covering the Islamic State group and al-Qaida must be replaced before it’s phased out as proposed.

“As imperfect as it may be, the 2001 AUMF is the foundational US authority for ongoing operations in Afghanistan, against al-Qaida and against ISIS,” Calvert said. “These fights are so critical to our national security that it would be irresponsible and dangerous to repeal the 2001 AUMF until we replace it.”

Pentagon and State Department officials have asserted the president has the legal authority to indefinitely keep US forces in Iraq and Syria. However, saber-rattling from Trump’s advisers toward Iran has prompted new focus on Capitol Hill regarding the boundaries of existing war authorizations.

“This body, Democrats and Republicans, can in eight months debate the costs and consequences of the wars that we’re engaged in,” Lee said. “We have have been missing in action, we have abdicated our responsibility. We have a job to do for the American people.”

The panel also passed Maryland Democrat Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s amendment to end US military support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Operations against al-Qaida, cooperation with Israel and intelligence gathering to counter threats in Yemen are exempted by the amendment.

Panel Republicans again backed Trump, who last month vetoed a congressional resolution that invoked the War Powers Act to end US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The House subsequently failed to override the veto.

The committee voted down a Republican amendment that would have added $8 billion across each of the services’ operations and maintenance accounts, under the cap-exempt wartime budget.

“I see that leaders on both sides of the aisle are beginning the conversation on a caps deal. That’s good, but here we are in our sixth markup today and we still do not have real figures with which to mark,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., the House Budget Committee’s ranking member.

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