Pentagon & Congress

Next coronavirus relief package must include a big defense boost, GOP leaders argue

Republican defense lawmakers are pushing for the next emergency coronavirus funding package to include a hefty boost for defense spending, saying that the pandemic’s effects on military spending have cut across an array of program and procurement accounts.

“Socially distanced production spaces, provision of PPE, self-quarantining, disrupted logistics have generated significant bills,” the group wrote in an open statement on Thursday. “These COVID-related effects made defense programs less efficient and more expensive, and DOD cannot redirect money from other crucial priorities to cover these costs.”

The comments lawmakers — Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.; House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas; House Appropriations Committee ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas; and the appropriations committee’s defense panel ranking member Ken Calvert, R-Calf. — come amid negotiations on the latest multi-trillion relief package between House Democrats and White House officials.

Defense officials have said publicly they need at least $10 billion in emergency funding to cover pandemic-related costs and avoid exhausting other modernization and readiness funds.

A plan unveiled by Senate Republicans late last month included more than $29 billion in new funding for the Defense Department, including more than $7 billion in funding for purchase of new equipment.

But congressional Democrats have attacked that plan as containing too many items unrelated to real needs created by the coronavirus crisis.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., in June said he believes the Defense Department can handle the new costs within their existing budget. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last month blasted the Republicans for prioritizing “a wish-list from the Department of Defense for manufacturing of planes, ships, and other weapons systems” over more pressing community needs.

Thursday’s statement was designed to counter that criticism, with the Republican lawmakers calling it “short-sighted” not to invest money back into national security needs.

“The Department of Defense cannot afford to incur over twenty billion dollars in unfunded coronavirus impacts without damaging their hard-fought readiness gains and combat capability,” the group wrote. “It would be wrong to ask them to.”

The lawmakers also noted that military leaders have “been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 while simultaneously holding the line against terrorists abroad and competitors like Russia and China.”

And they also noted that money assigned to the military can also be directed to “critical small businesses representing thousands of employees” through the department’s Defense Production Act authority, giving a critical lifeline to the defense industrial base.

Whether their argument has any impact on the current negotiations remains to be seen.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Wednesday said he didn’t see any compromise package as realistic if a deal isn’t reached with congressional Democrats by Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Thursday the two sides still remain far apart on key issues of unemployment assistance and other issues.

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