House committee's defense plan includes money for submarine buildup

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday unveiled a $690.2 billion spending plan for the Department of Defense that includes money to support a buildup in submarine production.

Under the measure, about $10 billion would be spent on submarine programs, including funding for two Virginia-class attack submarines, and advance procurement funding — used to pay for parts needed in advance — for three attack submarines and the first submarine in a new class of ballistic-missile submarines. That's a roughly $3 billion increase from what Congress has approved for submarine programs in recent years. The bill also calls for $21.7 billion to buy 11 Navy ships.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who's pushed for funding for the third submarine to mitigate a future drop in the attack submarine fleet, said the budget plan is "very good for submarines." Some have joked recently that he will need to change his nickname from "Two Sub Joe" — which he got for championing the effort to build two attack submarines a year at Electric Boat — to "Three Sub Joe."

The House bill provides $622.1 billion in base spending, an increase of $15.6 billion from last fiscal year. Another $68.1 billion is allotted for the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a war fund that both Republicans and Democrats have called a "slush fund," which is $165 million more than what was enacted last fiscal year. That would make this the fifth consecutive year of growth in military spending.

When accounting for the funding proposed for military construction and Energy Department nuclear programs, national security spending would be $733 billion next fiscal year. The Trump administration, in its budget, proposed $750 billion in national defense spending.

Spending caps set in place under the Budget Control Act set the limit for defense spending at $576 billion for 2020. A debate is ongoing in Congress over federal spending the next two years, and whether to raise the caps on defense and nondefense spending.

"The bigger question we still have is how to fix the spending cap," Courtney said. "You can't appropriate your way through the caps. That's the law."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the chairs of the budget committees have been meeting behind closed doors to discuss raising the caps. But the question is whether President Donald Trump will approve of doing so, Courtney said.

Trump has said he is against raising the budget caps, and, in his fiscal year 2020 budget, proposed diverting $164 billion into the Overseas Contingency Operations account to skirt the caps.

"This bill rejects the Trump administration's budgetary gimmicks and sleights of hand and instead provides the Defense Department with appropriate resources to address an evolving threat landscape and ensure the security of our nation and our allies," House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

The bill takes aim at the Pentagon for moving money, called reprogramming, to fund Trump's border wall. The bill proposes reducing the Pentagon's transfer authority from the $9.5 billion requested to $1.5 billion, "and reducing thresholds for prior approval reprogrammings." The Trump administration has twice moved money from the Defense Department to pay for the wall. Congress was not notified of the reprogramming, breaking with decades of precedent.

"There's always been an understanding that Congress should have the opportunity to weigh in on the reprogramming," said Courtney, who supports the proposal.

j.bergman@theday.com

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