The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act should have at least a $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021, and the Pentagon should get additional funds to counter the effect of COVID-19 on the U.S. military and industrial base, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday.
“The best way to proceed is, stick with the two-year budget deal, but also be mindful of further COVID-related supplementals,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the retiring ranking member, said on a conference call with the Capitol Hill defense-press corps. “If it’s possible to come to some bipartisan agreement to get the authorization and appropriations bills done on time at a higher level, obviously I’m open to that.”
The two-year budget deal refers to the spending limits signed into law last year to do away with the final years of across-the-board sequestration budget cuts, introduced by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The amount and target of proposed extra Pentagon funding in fiscal 2021 will depend on “what sort of costs have been imposed [by COVID-19] on the department, and then also the consequences to the industrial base,” Thornberry said. The House’s top GOP military policy maker said he has recently spoken with Mark Esper, the secretary of defense, and others at the Pentagon about the issue.
Thornberry’s opening gambit could put him at odds with House Democrats, who in media reports and public statements have both discussed including DoD COVID-19 aid in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and decried the continuing reprogramming of Pentagon appropriations to pay for ongoing construction of portions of President Trump’s southern border wall.
Thornberry told reporters Thursday that he didn’t know when the full House Armed Services Committee would markup the 2021, but he hoped it would be “relatively soon.”
The ongoing COVID-19 response has Congress treading carefully. The Senate returned to Washington this week, and the House may do so next week. Thornberry and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the Armed Services chair, have said a draft version of the full-Committee bill, which sets policy and spending limits for defense programs, is nearly ready.
Thornberry said Armed Services Republicans are “ready to go.”