Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes $29.4B for Pentagon

Report by Ellen Mitchell | The Hill

The Pentagon would get nearly $30 billion under the Senate Republicans’ coronavirus relief plan, including $8 billion for weapons systems.

The $29.4 billion for the Pentagon is included in the $1 trillion coronavirus aid package Senate Republicans released Monday night.

Democrats have already declared the bill a non-starter, but it lays out Republicans and the White House’s priorities heading into negotiations.

GOP on the defense: Republicans are defending the funding for acquisition programs as supporting the defense industrial base at a time of economic hardship and job losses, but Democrats are blasting it as a giveaway to defense contractors.

“The pandemic continues to threaten the defense industrial base and thousands of vulnerable suppliers across the country who support it,” Alyssa Pettus, press secretary for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), said in a statement. “That puts thousands and thousands of jobs in jeopardy. The chairman believes Congress must act, not turn a blind eye.”

What the money goes to: Of the military hardware included in the bill, $686 million would go toward the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin-made F-35A fighter jet. The Air Force would also get $720 million for Lockheed C-130J transport planes and $650 million for A-10 wing replacements, which Boeing is contracted to do.

The bill would also allocate about $1.1 billion for the Navy’s Boeing-made P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes, as well as $1.45 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, $260 million for one expeditionary fast transport ship, $250 million for amphibious shipbuilding and $250 million for the surface combatant supplier base program.

Backfilling from the wall grab: Several of the weapons programs that would get funding previously lost money when the Trump administration took Pentagon funding to use on the southern border wall earlier this year. In February, the Pentagon announced it was redirecting $3.8 billion from programs including the F-35A, the P-8A, the expeditionary fast transport ship, the C-130J and unspecified National Guard and reserves equipment.

The GOP Senate coronavirus bill would appropriate $800 million toward the National Guard and reserves’ equipment account.

“It is also no secret that earlier this year the Trump administration abused the reprogramming authority to divert funding from military equipment and modernization accounts to pay for the president’s vanity wall,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement Tuesday. “Now, Republican Senators are trying to capitalize on the urgency of the moment to backfill these accounts while in the same breath arguing that unemployment benefits should be cut in the name of fiscal responsibility.”

Other hardware programs that benefit: The Army, meanwhile, would get $375 million to upgrade Stryker Double V-Hull armored fighting vehicles and $283 million for new Boeing AH–64 Apache helicopters.

The bill would also provide $319.6 million for a new battery of the missile defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, as well as radars for the battery. Another $65.8 million would go toward hypersonic missile defense, $39.2 million for cruise missile defense, $200 million for the homeland missile defense system known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system and $290 million for a space-based missile sensor layer.

Funds related to the coronavirus: Apart from the hardware, the bill would also provide $11 billion to reimburse defense contractors for coronavirus-related expenses.

The coronavirus relief package Congress passed in March, known as the CARES Act, gave the Pentagon the authority to reimburse contractors over coronavirus-related delays and other issues, but did not appropriate any money toward that end. Defense contractors and the Pentagon have been pushing for the funding, warning the department could have to tap into other accounts that could jeopardize readiness.

The bill also includes $705 million for defense health programs to boost manufacturing of therapeutic drugs and buy more medical personal protective equipment; $2.6 billion for operations and maintenance funding intended to be used to build temporary facilities to house U.S. troops deploying to or returning from overseas who need to isolate; and $5.3 billion for the Pentagon to use for the Defense Production Act.

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