WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee pushed to increase the 2020 defense budget by 3% to $750 billion.
"That is what is required in order to continue to repair readiness and to not fall further behind in critical areas from the Russians and the Chinese," said Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Texas ).
But Democrats, led by Chairman Adam Smith, said the originally agreed upon amount of $733 billion will be more than sufficient.
"We had a significant increase in defense spending last year, the year before that, and now, into this year," said Smith (D-Washington).
One major dispute: President Donald J. Trump's decision to declare a national emergency, and to divert military construction funding to build a wall along the U.S-Mexico border.
"I will point out there was $2.3 billion taken out of the Department of Defense's current operations to fund a border wall," said Representative John Garamendi (D-California).
As lawmakers struggled to reach a final dollar amount for the Pentagon, there was bipartisan agreement on another military issue with major Hampton Roads implications.
Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that the Trump Administration's now-canceled plan to retire the USS Harry S. Truman early was a bad idea.
"Our mark also specifically rejects the President's baffling proposal to cancel the planned refueling of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, a proposal that would have squandered $538 million of sunk refueling costs already made on a critical ship less than halfway through its service life," said Representative Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut).
Virginia First District Representative Rob Wittman also spoke in favor of the Seapower and Projection Force Subcommittee's decision to support the Truman.
"The Seapower mark includes an authorization for 11 ships and generally supports the administration's request for aircraft," said Wittman (R-Va., 1st District). "It reaffirms Congressional support for aircraft carriers and rebuffs an administration request to not refuel the USS Harry S. Truman, CVN-75, a mistake that has since been corrected."
The panel also tackled the problem of sexual assault at the nation's military academies.
A Pentagon study earlier this year revealed that incidents of unwanted sexual contact at the academies had increased by nearly 50% since a similar study two years earlier.
The committee today debated an amendment that would establish a four-year pilot program.
Under it, academy superintendents would no longer make decisions when it comes to whether to prosecute a cadet or midshipman or not.
Instead, an independent prosecutor would make recommendations to the superintendents about sexual assault cases.
"There is something going on in the academy culture that has to change," said Representative Jackie Speier (D- California). "I don't know how many times we must go around this hamster wheel before we realize we're stuck in it. I don't doubt for a second the commitment of the superintendents to combating sexual assault but they don't necessarily have the right tools."
After an extensive debate, that amendment passed on a voice vote, as part of the broader 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The overall bill must still be voted upon by the entire House, reconciled with the Senate version and the NDAA, before being sent to the President's desk for his signature.