The next COVID-19-related stimulus packages that Congress considers should prioritize public health efforts, rather than the Defense Department, the top House Armed Services Committee Democrat said April 29.
Lawmakers are just beginning to negotiate what sort of aid will be included in the second phase of the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act, which is addressing the economic fallout related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Defense Department officials have previously expressed plans to request billions of dollars to support defense contracts affected by closures, social distancing or other effects related to the coronavirus.
But the Pentagon should have sufficient funds to meet the needs of its contractors, whether by advancing already expected payments or awarding contracts early, and shouldn’t rely on forthcoming stimulus money, HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a Wednesday teleconference.
“Of all the needs that we face in this country, [my priority is not] to spend more money on basic DoD to go buy more planes or ships or boats or anything like that,” he said.
Smith told reporters that the U.S. government will have to spend “a lot of money” in response to the coronavirus. Congress has recently passed nearly $3 trillion for the CARES Act and several interim bills in the past few weeks.
However, “The defense [budget] bill last year was $738 billion,” he noted. “I’m not saying that there aren’t needs within the Department of Defense, I’m saying they have a lot of money and ought to spend that money to meet those needs.”
Smith’s comments come as the Pentagon’s acquisition czar, Undersecretary Ellen Lord, recently told reporters the department is planning to submit a stimulus package request to the White House for about $3 billion in expedited “progress payments” that would speed up cash flow to contractors.
He noted that he supports the Defense Department using its logistical experience and infrastructure to support conducting and processing COVID-19 tests for the U.S. population, but that “I have not seen an argument that makes sense to me [for putting] more money into defense to manufacture things.”