House Appropriators Approve 2021 Defense Spending Bill, Veto Threat Looms

The House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the 2021 defense spending bill by a 30-22 vote July 14, though dissenting Republicans warned of “poison pills” in the measure that would invite a veto.

The bill includes $694.6 billion for the Pentagon, including $626.2 billion in base funding and $68.4 billion in overseas contingency operations spending. This total is $1.3 billion above the Pentagon’s 2020 budget, but $3.7 billion below the administration’s request.

For the Air Force, key provisions include an end strength of 333,700 Active-duty Airmen, 70,300 Reservists, and 108,100 Air National Guardsmen—all in line with the request. It would provide $2.5 billion to stand up the Space Force, but includes provisions blocking spending to transfer parts of other services into the new branch until the Pentagon provides more explanation.

For procurement, the measure includes $9.3 billion to buy 91 F-35s, 12 more than requested. It provides $1.2 billion for 12 F-15EXs, $2.7 billion for 15 KC-46s, $1.1 billion for 19 HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopters, and $344 million for 16 MQ-9s, which were not requested by the Air Force, among others.

Committee Republicans, however, pointed out some provisions in the measure that would invite a veto: Blocking plans to use Defense Department funds to built a wall on the southern border with Mexico, $1 million to rename Army bases named for Confederate leaders, exempting military aid for Ukraine from the normal process of Office of Management and Budget approval, and steps to limit the Pentagon’s reprogramming authority. Members also approved amendments to block the President’s ability to go to war with Iran, and repeal both the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force.

Ranking Member Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said the committee “must provide troops the funds needed to defend our nation. This bill is simply too important to be slowed down by politics.”

With these included measures, the bill would likely be vetoed, in turn delaying the process of funding the military so the dissenting members would not support the bill in its current form, Republican members said.

The largely party-line vote stands in contrast to the House Armed Services Committee, which earlier this month passed its version of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill by a unanimous vote.