Bill cites climate change as threat
House GOP approves defense measure, rejects base closures
WASHINGTON — The Republican- led House decisively approved a defense policy bill on Friday that declares climate change a national security threat, demands rigorous oversight of the Pentagon’s cyber operations and rejects President Donald Trump’s bid to close military bases.
Meanwhile, the White House said Friday that worsening tax revenue will cause the budget deficit to jump to $ 702 billion this year, a $ 99 billion increase from what was predicted less than two months ago.
Lawmakers voted 344-81 on Friday to pass the sweeping legislation with support from Arkansas’ four congressmen, all Republicans. The bill authorizes $696 billion in defense spending for fiscal 2018, including nearly $30 billion more for core Pentagon operations than Trump requested.
Yet defense hawks pushing the hardest for the big boost in spending still face an uphill battle. For the spending increases to materialize, Congress first will have to agree to roll back a 2011 law that set strict limits on military spending. But that won’t be easy. Lifting the so- called budget caps will face resistance from Democrats who are seeking to increase the budgets for other government agencies.
If a budget deal can’t be reached, Congress may be forced to fund the military through the use of stopgap spending bills. Under these short-term agreements, the Pentagon’s budget is set at current levels and the military services are barred from starting new programs.
“If you don’t raise the budget caps, this leaves us once again in the land of absurdity,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. Smith is the top ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
The bill includes a section that says global warming is “a direct threat to the national security.” It’s a potentially surprising addition given Trump’s publicly stated doubts about climate change and his recent decision to pull the U.S. out of the landmark accord aimed at combating global warming.
The section requires the Pentagon to deliver a report to Congress detailing the impact of climate change on the armed forces. The climate change report also is to list the 10 military bases most vulnerable to rising oceans, increased flooding, wildfires and other effects of climate change.
Over White House objections, the bill added a bipartisan measure crafted by Smith and Rep. Mac Thornberry, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, requiring the Defense Department to inform Congress within 48 hours of “any sensitive military cyber operation.” Offensive and defensive cyber operations are covered by the notification requirement, although covert actions are exempt.
The bill also mandates that the department tell Congress, also within two days, about the results of any legal review by one of the military services of a cyber capability that is intended to be used as a weapon. Thornberry, a Texas Republican, has described the measure as a way to promote greater transparency and accountability for one of the most classified elements of the American arsenal.
The bill rejected the Trump administration’s request that the Pentagon be given the authority to start a new round of military base closings in 2021. Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Armed Services Committee last month that closing excess installations would save $10 billion over a five-year period. He said the savings could be used to acquire four nuclear submarines or dozens of jet fighters.
But military installations are prized possessions in congressional districts, and lawmakers refused to go along with Trump just as they denied former President Barack Obama’s bid to shutter facilities.
In the White House’s budget report, the Office of Management and Budget says the deficit for the 2018 budget year that starts on Oct. 1 will increase by $149 billion to $589 billion. But lawmakers are already working on spending bills that promise to boost that number even higher by adding to Trump’s Pentagon proposal and ignoring many of Trump’s cuts to domestic programs.
Last year’s deficit registered $585 billion.
The White House kept the report to a bare-bones minimum and cast blame on “the failed policies of the previous administration.”
“The rising near- term deficits underscore the critical need to restore fiscal discipline to the nation’s finances,” said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. “Our nation must make substantial changes to the policies and spending priorities of the previous administration if our citizens are to be safe and prosperous in the future.”
In late May, Trump released a budget plan proposing cuts to domestic programs and promising to balance the budget within a decade. But it relied on rosy predictions of economic growth to promise a slight surplus in 2027. Trump’s budget, however, left alone Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare, though House Republicans are poised next week to again propose cutting Medicare as they unveil their nonbinding budget outline.