Democrats break ranks to back $24 billion boost to Pentagon budget
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Democrats break ranks to back $24 billion boost to Pentagon budget

More than a dozen Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee joined with Republicans to easily approve a measure boosting the Pentagon’s budget by $24 billion as part of a debate for a sweeping defense bill that authorizes spending levels and outlines priorities for the US military.

The amendment from Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican, was added to the House’s National Defense Authorization Act during the committee’s debate Thursday in a 42-17 vote with 14 Democrats voting in favor. The provision would increase the military budget by 3%, which Rogers said would keep the growth of the budget in line with inflation, authorizing additional funding for a number of items not in the Biden administration’s Pentagon budget, including additional submarines, planes and combat vehicles.

“The bipartisan adoption of my amendment sends a clear signal: the President’s budget submission was wholly inadequate to keep pace with a rising China and a reemerging Russia,” Rogers said in a statement after its passage.

This amendment is one of hundreds Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee filed on the defense bill Wednesday to force Democrats on the panel to vote on a variety of politically fraught issues, from Afghanistan and China, to banning the teaching of critical race theory.

The committee is meeting to mark up the National Defense Authorization Act where lawmakers offered about 780 amendments that will likely force debate to go past midnight.

Of particular concern for Republicans is Democrats’ view of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, where the administration has been accused by Republicans of botching the end of the 20-year war. Republicans plan to use this as a talking point ahead of the 2022 midterms, where they hope to win back the majority from Democrats.

“What we saw in Afghanistan last month was devastating. The decisions that President Biden has made were disastrous,” Rogers said. “These self-inflicted wounds have made our job even more important and difficult. Today’s markup will begin our duty to conduct oversight on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Democratic congressman from Washington, countered that Congress should be looking at what went wrong across the 20 years of war, and not just the final few months.

“If we’re going to really honestly look at Afghanistan we need to look at all 20 years,” he said. “There was a lot that went into that and I think simply focusing on the last four months would do an incredible disservice to the men and women who served there.”

The committee approved by unanimous consent several non-controversial amendments related to Afghanistan in the early stages of the panel’s debate Thursday, including provisions to require the defense secretary to submit quarterly reports on the threats posed by al Qaeda in Afghanistan and on US military operations related to security and threats from Afghanistan.

Additional amendments include provisions to tell Congress what weapons may have fallen into the hands of the Taliban and what intelligence the Pentagon may have shared with them. Other proposals would designate the Taliban as a foreign terror organization, prohibit funding to the Taliban and require an Afghanistan counterterrorism plan from the Biden administration.

In some cases, vulnerable Democrats on the panel will have to choose between taking a stance against their own party or taking tough votes on controversial issues that could be used against them in attack ads ahead of the midterms.

Several Democrats facing tough races in next year’s midterms supported Rogers’ amendment to increase the Pentagon budget, including Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Jared Golden of Maine, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Stephanie Murphy of Florida. Luria said that she was backing the amendment because she believed that the Pentagon needed to keep pace with China’s rising military.

The Senate Armed Services Committee also approved a $25 billion increase to the Pentagon budget in its version of the defense authorization act, with most Democrats on the panel voting in favor of the measure.

More controversial amendments loom in the committee’s debate. Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks of Indiana, for instance, plans to introduce the amendment that would ban the teaching of critical race theory or any related theories in the military.

This comes after GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas forced a similar vote on an amendment that would ban federal funds from backing teaching critical race theory in schools during the Senate’s vote-a-rama on the budget resolution (the amendments were non-binding). West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was the only Democrat to support the amendment with all 49 Republican senators.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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