House appropriators backed plans for a 3.1 percent military pay raise next year but cut the White House’s end strength request by 2,000 troops in their first draft of the fiscal 2020 Defense Department budget, released Tuesday.
The $690.2 billion plan is about $8 billion below President Donald Trump’s ask for next year and rejects his plans to get around mandatory spending caps by shifting almost $100 billion extra into overseas war accounts.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the appropriations measure “rejects the Trump administration’s budgetary gimmicks and sleights of hand and instead provides the Defense Department with appropriate resources” to address worldwide threats.
Like the military construction budget approved by the committee last week, the measure also contains language banning the White House from shifting funding for the military “from being stolen for the President’s wasteful wall.”
The Democrat-authored measure is likely to face fierce opposition from congressional Republicans and Trump himself, who in recent months has touted his higher military funding target as necessary to maintain military readiness and might.
The two sides have also fought over the president’s decision to shift billions in funding from military accounts to his southern border wall project, and his request to replace those funds with new monies next year.
In response to that, Democrats are proposing limiting the amount of money the military can shift between accounts for any purpose, from $9.5 billion this year to $1.5 billion in fiscal 2020. Defense officials have warned that such a move could create lengthy bureaucratic waits for routine business.
One area where the two sides appear to agree is the annual military pay raise. A 3.1 percent increase next January would be the largest for troops since 2010 and would match the federal formula for how annual military salary increases are calculated.
For junior enlisted troops, a 3.1 percent pay raise would to about $815 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,500 more. An O-4 with 12 years service would see more than $2,800 extra next year under the increase.
But the House plan would mandate about 600 fewer active-duty troops overall for the Defense Department next year, instead of Trump’s request for a boost of about 1,400 more personnel across the services.
Combined with the reserve forces, the total military end strength would fall to 2,138,300 under the the House Democrats’ plan.
Their draft also includes $38 million extra for military Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs for a total of $297 million, bringing total funding for those efforts to nearly $300 million.
It funds procurement at $142 billion, an increase of $11.4 billion above the White House budget request. That money would buy 90 F-35 aircraft (12 more than the White House asked for) as well as 73 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and 14 V-22 aircraft.
For the Navy, the plan calls for $21.7 billion for 11 ships: three DDG-51 guided missile destroyers, two SSN-774 attack submarines, one frigate, one Ford-class aircraft carrier, two oilers, and two ships for towing, salvage, and rescue.
The ground vehicle budget plan includes $249 million above the White House request for 86 30mm cannons and weapon stations for Stryker vehicles, and the upgrade of 165 Abrams tanks.
The committee is expected to vote on the budget plan later this month. The proposal will still have to pass out of the full House before negotiations with Senate appropriators can commence.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.