The House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense on Wednesday passed a $705.9 billion spending bill for the Defense Department for fiscal 2022 that includes a 2.7% pay raise for service members.
The bill would increase the Pentagon's funding by nearly $10 billion over this year's spending levels, the committee said in a release. It was passed by a voice vote after a markup that was closed to the public.
The Biden administration last month submitted a budget request for $715 billion. In a statement at the markup, subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said the bill passed was "essentially equal" to President Joe Biden's request, and generally consistent with his proposed topline, though there were some technical scoring differences between the budget and the bill.
However, leading Republicans have been critical of Biden's proposed defense budget and say it is not enough to prepare the military to counter potential major adversaries such as China.
"The facts couldn't be more clear: China is a very real threat to our national security," Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said during a June 23 budget hearing. "Here's the problem: The president apparently doesn't see things the same way. If he did, I don't understand why he'd send us a wholly inadequate defense budget."
McCollum said she believes the Pentagon's proposed funding levels will be sufficient, in conjunction with efforts from other agencies such as the State Department, to meet the nation's threats.
"I am a strong proponent of the belief that our security is not defined by only the programs funded in the defense bill," McCollum said. "It is greatly impacted by the diplomatic and development initiatives in the state and foreign operations bill."
The bill passed by the subcommittee seeks to pave the way to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by the end of the next fiscal year. McCollum said the bill does not include the provisions in previous bills that limited the release of detainees and closure of the facility. This bill adds a new provision that would prohibit funds from being used to operate the detention facility after Sept. 30, 2022.
The legislation would slightly cut total active-duty military end strength by 1,975, leaving more than 1.3 million troops in total. Reserve components would have nearly 800,000 troops, which would be a 2,500-troop cut from fiscal 2021. Both end-strength levels would be the same as proposed in President Biden's budget last month.
The bill would also require for-profit contractors receiving money in the bill to pay all their employees an hourly wage of at least $15. McCollum said this would be a step beyond a current executive order requiring contractors working on government contracts to be paid that amount, extending coverage to those companies' employees.
"We simply cannot allow companies to receive hundreds of millions, or even billions, of taxpayer dollars and pay some of their workers far less than a living wage," McCollum said.
The bill would also add another destroyer for the Navy, but it would eliminate funding for the Sea Launched Cruise Missile, both of which are differences from the administration's budget request.
McCollum said that a cruise missile would not be a good investment.
"No matter how much our allocation might be, we cannot spend it on ineffective systems," she said.
The bill also seeks to address violent extremism and white supremacy in the ranks, and includes provisions to try to fight sexual assault in the military, and climate change.
"There are far too many 'black flag' days at bases across the country where troops cannot train or facilities that are not resilient cannot be used due to extreme weather," McCollum said. "And investing in energy efficient systems isn't only good for the environment, it makes those systems more effective in a high-end fight with adversaries who will target energy supplies."
The bill would provide $442.7 million to fund Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs -- $54.5 million more than the administration requesed.