The full House on Wednesday approved a 2020 Pentagon budget of roughly $690 billion as part of five-bill minibus that boosts defense spending relative to 2019, but still comes in below the White House’s request.

The Democrat-controlled House approved the measure on an essentially party-line vote of 226 to 203. The measure now goes to the Senate, which had yet to craft any appropriations bills at deadline Wednesday. Likewise, the White House and Congress have yet to work out a compromise on overall federal spending for 2020, or a deal to prevent automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration from again taking a bite out of defense spending.

That keeps the specter of a stop-gap, continuing resolution in the picture, which could freeze the military’s budget at 2019 levels after Sept. 30, and prohibit new programs from starting in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. As Senate appropriators begin their work, there remained only 103 calendar days until the end of the 2019 fiscal year fully a month of which Congress could spend on its annual August recess.

When it came to defense programs, Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), chair of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, brooked relatively few amendments to his part of the minibus during a two-day floor debate. Notably, Visclosky was behind Democrats’ efforts to block a Republican proposal that would have jump started development of a brand new, conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile system

The Trump administration in February vowed to withdraw from the Cold War-era Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty by early August. Some in Congress subsequently declared that the U.S. should rapidly restore a medium-range missile capability for ground forces.

Visclosky was not having it in his bill, and House Democrats followed him.

On Tuesday, House lawmakers struck down a proposed amendment from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) that would have restored $96 million in funding for programs to develop intermediate-range conventional weapons. The proposal went down 203-225, largely along party lines.

Low angled view of the U.S. Capitol East Facade Front in Washington, DC.

Gallagher’s amendment would have added $76 million for the Prompt Global Strike program and $20 million for an Army ballistic missile effort, two programs whose development includes capabilities that would exceed the INF treaty’s restrictions.

“Now that the United States is months away from a post-INF world, Congress is threatening to undo this process by zeroing out R&D for these purely conventional missile systems,” Gallagher said on the House floor on Tuesday. “The cuts contained in this bill already go beyond what is mandated by the agreement. It would not only keep us unilaterally tied to a treaty that no one else is honoring, but it would also expand the scope of our commitment by blocking R&D funding.”

The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, signed in 1987, banned all ground-launched missiles with a range of roughly 310 miles to 3,100 miles — officially, 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers. The Trump administration, citing evidence dating as far back as the George W. Bush administration, said Russia has been violated the treaty for years.

The president’s FY ’20 budget request included $107 million for intermediate-range projects, which the Senate Armed Services Committee authorized in their 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The policy bill, which sets funding limits but does not provide funding, could come up for debate in the Senate next week. 

Visclosky challenged Gallagher’s amendment on the House floor noting the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty’s role in easing the arms race with Russia and NATO’s continued position that deal remain in place.

“The Russians are cheating on the INF Treaty. That does not mean we should compound the first problem by creating a second problem. Don’t make a bad situation worse,” Visclosky said. 

Senior Army officials have said that a withdrawal from the INF treaty could set the service up to explore missile technologies that exceed currently prohibited ranges and are deemed necessary for future multi-domain operations (Defense Daily, Nov. 8).


Defense Daily staff reporter Dan Leone contributed to this story from Washington.