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Washington Wednesday: Defense funding passes House as Obamacare repeal looms over proceedings

CAPITOL HILL – The U.S. House of Representatives has approved the appropriation for the Department of Defense after five months of delay – and with additional delay on the day.

Last Wednesday, the House voted 371-48 in favor of the Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations Act of 2017, which divvies out the federal dollars previously allocated to DoD in the Defense authorization. The defense budget was submitted by former President Barack Obama before he left office and covers fiscal year 2017, which began in October of 2016. Since then, the DoD – and the other government agencies – have been operating under continuing resolutions set to expire April 28.

Among the no votes was Maryland Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-8), while Prince George’s County’s representatives, Anthony Brown (D-4) and Steny Hoyer (D-5) both voted in favor. The bill must also pass through the Senate to become law.

“The passage of the bipartisan Department of Defense Appropriations Act for 2017 is an important step in funding our government,” Hoyer said. “However, I’m disappointed that the defense spending allocated in this legislation was not passed as part of a larger omnibus package in December. I am pleased that the legislation includes a pay raise for our men and women in uniform, as well as our federal civilian Department of Defense employees.”

The pay raises total 2.1 percent for military members and 1.6 percent for civilian employees. Other money in the $577.9 billion budget includes $980 million to train and equip Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, $150 million to train and equip Ukranian forces, an increase in cyber operations by almost $1 billion, and money for suicide and sexual assault prevention, the National Guard’s counter-drug program and traumatic brain injury research. It also funds modernization efforts and equipment purchases for the branches of the military.

“This is a bipartisan, bicameral agreement that deserves the support of the House,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J. 11), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which handled the DoD bill.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and several of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle said the most important duty of government is to “provide for the common defense,” which includes funding the military.

“It is no exaggeration to say that if we fail to provide the resources our military needs to defend our nation, if we fail to do what is necessary to ensure America’s armed forces remain superior to all others in the world, if we fail to provide support the our men and women in uniform need to recover from eight years of devastating problems, nothing else we are doing in this body will matter,” Cheney said.

Although many members, including Hoyer, expressed displeasure that the bill had not been passed earlier, the vote was delayed several times by Democrats making motions to adjourn as a protest to the Republican American Health Care Act, which would repeal and replace Obamacare. A major objection was that the bills were being marked up in committee that very day without receiving a score from the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that estimates the fiscal and other impacts of proposals.

“Groups across the political spectrum have come out in opposition to this legislation, yet House Republicans continue to strong-arm their legislation through committee – debating and holding votes in the middle of the night and calling no witnesses,” Hoyer said. “Every single person in this country will be affected by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and I will continue to do everything in my power to make the process transparent to ensure the American people know how the Republican bill will impact their families.”

Several other Democrats also mentioned the Affordable Care Act repeal during their floor remarks throughout the day. But not everyone in the party was pleased to see the two issues mingled.

“Band-aid budgets are bad for everyone, from our partners in industry to American taxpayers, and especially our armed forces. Now is not the time to argue over partisan issues,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD 2).

President Donald Trump is expected to ask for an increase in defense spending for fiscal year 2018 in his first budget proposal, and several Republicans said this appropriation was a start toward the military buildup Trump has championed. Some Democratic members fear those increases will be offset by cuts to domestic programs like education, environmental protection and healthcare.

“Mr. Speaker, I am voting for this bill today, but I want to make it very clear that I am very concerned about President Trump's proposed cuts that pit our national security against our domestic needs for all Americans,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).

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