December 18, 2019 | Policy Brief

Congress Sends Defense Authorization Bill to President

December 18, 2019 | Policy Brief

Congress Sends Defense Authorization Bill to President

The Senate voted 86-8 on Tuesday to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, sending the bill – which had already passed 377-48 in the House – to the president for his signature. The passage of the NDAA, along with movement this week on last-minute appropriations, suggests U.S. troops may finally receive the new authorities and appropriations they need to ensure continued operations, advance modernization programs, and further deter the country’s most urgent threats.

Each year, the NDAA authorizes Department of Defense spending and new programs and establishes defense policy. With the president’s signature, the NDAA will authorize a national defense topline of $738 billion. Though short of the $750 billion requested by the Trump administration, the figure represents a significant and necessary increase over Obama-era defense budgets, and an approximately $20 billion increase from the previous fiscal year.

This $738 billion topline includes $658.4 billion in base budget funding, $71.5 billion for overseas contingency operations, and $8.1 billion for other defense-related programs. The bill also authorizes $5.3 billion for emergency disaster relief. It also authorizes the Pentagon to start new programs essential to modernizing forces and restoring U.S. military supremacy.

While the final passage of the NDAA is essential, funding for the military ultimately depends on the passage of defense appropriations legislation. Thankfully, on Tuesday the House passed eleventh-hour $1.4 trillion appropriations bills that include $738 billion in defense funding. Notably, the defense appropriations would provide funding through the end of the fiscal year in September 2020.

The increase in spending has not been unanimously welcomed. Accusations of excessive defense spending, however, lack merit. The Government Accountability Office identifies health care spending and interest on debt as the leading drivers of runaway federal spending. In contrast, defense spending measured as a percentage of overall federal outlays and a percentage of gross domestic product still sits near post-1945 lows.

The federal government has a constitutional duty to provide “for the common defense.” Despite this mandate, with the exception of FY 2019, U.S. service members have started every year since 2010 without a normal defense appropriation. This has real consequences: delayed fielding of, and higher costs for, important programs on which U.S. troops rely.

2019 has been no different. For the Army, for example, the failure delayed 79 new programs and 37 production rate increases. For the Air Force, the failure delayed 88 new programs and 14 production increases. These delays damage the Pentagon’s top modernization programs, which are essential in light of Beijing’s military modernization.

If appropriations are passed by the Senate and signed by the president before midnight Friday, Washington will avoid a government shutdown. This would avert another continuing resolution, which would hinder military modernization efforts that are finally gathering momentum.

Americans should applaud Congress for finally providing U.S. troops with the authorities and funding levels they need to accomplish their missions. If America is to compete effectively with China and Russia, counter Iran and North Korea, and prevent domestic terror attacks, that is the least Congress can do. Perhaps next year it can do so on time.

Bradley Bowman is senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Mikhael Smits is a research analyst. For more analysis by Brad, Mikhael, and CMPP, subscribe HERE. Follow them on Twitter at @Brad_L_Bowman and @MikhaelSmits. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


China Iran Military and Political Power North Korea Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy