Defense & National Security — GOP facing ire after blocking toxic exposure bill

Veterans’ groups and many lawmakers were furious on Thursday after Senate Republicans blocked a much-anticipated bill aimed at expanding care for veterans exposed to toxins during military service on Wednesday.  

We’ll talk about the reactions to the setback. Plus, we’ll take a look at Senate Democrats’ $850 billion proposal for defense spending.  

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Veterans’ groups slam toxins bill setback

Veterans’ advocacy groups on Thursday slammed Senate Republicans’ move to block a much-anticipated bill aimed at expanding care for veterans who were exposed to toxins during military service. 

The Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act was the product of a year of negotiations between the House and the Senate, and Wednesday’s vote was largely expected to be a victory for veterans in need of care. 

‘Total bullsh—:’ ““This is total bulls—,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said during a press conference in front of the Capitol on Thursday. 

“We had strong bipartisan support for this bill. And at the 11th hour, Senator Toomey decides that he wants to rewrite the bill, change the rules, and tank it.” 

  • What happened Wednesday? The Senate voted 55-42 to advance the PACT Act, falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The upper chamber passed the bill last month by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 84-14 vote, and the House passed the bill earlier this month by a vote of 342-88. The Senate needed to vote on it again because of technical changes made by the House. 
  • Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who initially voted yes, changed his vote to no and brought a motion to reconsider. 

‘Lack of amendment process’: In floor speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday,
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) said he opposed the bill because it moves $400 billion from discretionary spending to mandatory spending, which he called a “budgetary gimmick.” 

The Pennsylvania Republican proposed amending the bill by moving that funding back to discretionary spending, which is subject to annual Congressional appropriations. 

In a floor speech on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Toomey’s amendment should have been offered for a vote. 

“Even on legislation this major and this costly, the Democratic leader tried to block the Senate from any semblance of a fair amendment process,” McConnell said. 

Next steps: Speaking to reporters later on Thursday, Schumer said the upper chamber bill will vote on the bill again Monday evening. 

  • The majority leader said he offered Toomey the chance to amend the bill on the floor, but Toomey insisted that the bill itself be changed before the upper chamber considers it. 
  • “I stand by the offer. We will give Senator Toomey a right to bring his amendment to the floor and try to get the votes for it,” Schumer said. 

Read more here.

Senate Dems propose $850B in defense spending

The Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing $850 billion in total national defense spending for fiscal year 2023 as part of its nearly $1.7 trillion spending package unveiled Thursday. 

  • The bulk of the funds would come from the proposed defense authorization bill which would appropriate $792.1 billion for the Department of Defense, $63.6 billion above what was enacted for fiscal year 2022. 
  • A separate $317 billion appropriations bill would allocate roughly $16.6 billion to military construction projects. 

How it stacks up: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) separately said that the bill falls short of the defense spending levels that Senate Armed Services Committee proposed in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023. 

That measure, which the committee approved in June, authorizes $47 billion for total defense spending, but $817 billion would be authorized for the Pentagon. 

The Senate’s appropriations proposal is the highest proposal offered for defense spending. 

The House Appropriations Committee advanced a bill in late June  that would appropriate $761 billion for the Department of Defense. Meanwhile, the lower chamber’s $840 billion version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed earlier this month. 

  • What’s in the bill? The upper chamber’s appropriations bill includes $53 billion to address higher inflation for acquisition programs and higher compensation costs, and another $10 billion to address price increases caused by rising inflation. 
  • The measure allocates $4.7 billion to upgrade outdated infrastructure, as well as $1.4 billion to expand the capacity of the defense industrial base and supporting supply chains across multiple munitions programs. 

The bill also fully funds a 4.6 percent pay raise for troops and $100 million for the Baltic Security Initiative –which funds security cooperation with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. 

Read more here.

DC REQUESTS NATIONAL GUARD’S HELP WITH MIGRANTS

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) asked the D.C. National Guard to activate and help manage an influx of migrants to the capital. 

The mayor’s office reports that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) have sent nearly 200 buses carrying more than 4,000 migrants from the southern border to the capital in protest of President Biden’s immigration policy. 

In a July 22 letter sent from Bowser to White House officials and obtained by The Hill, the mayor called the influx of migrants “cruel political gamesmanship from the Governors of Texas and Arizona” and called for federal support of her request to engage the National Guard. 

“Our ability to assist people in need at this scale is very limited. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and working with the Biden/Harris Administration on a real solution, Governors Abbot and Ducey have decided to use desperate people to score political points,” Bowser wrote. 

Read more here. 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel will hold a hearing on “Service Members’ Reproductive Health and Readiness” at 8:30 a.m. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on “The Nuclear Posture in Review” at 10 a.m. 
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will welcome South Korean National Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup to the Pentagon at 2 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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