Major U.S. Congressional Defense Actions in 2018

National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019

  • Authorized a $716 billion top-line budget for Defense in FY2019.
  • Authorized a 6% pay raise for all branches of the military.
  • Created a new Cyberspace Solarium Commission to research collaboration between the private sector and the military to find best practices for cyberwar.

Status: Signed into law 8/13/2018

MilCon/Veterans Affairs (VA) Appropriations Bill

  • Provided military construction and VA appropriations for FY2019.
  • Authorized the largest dollar amount ever for the VA in FY2019 at $86.5 billion.
  • Authorized $97.1 billion for military construction.

Status: Signed into law 9/21/2018

Senate Joint Resolution 54

  • Resolution to remove U.S. support for the Saudi-backed coalition in Yemen.
  • Drafted in response to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as directed by Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammad bin Salman.
  • Senate passed the resolution in December; House passed a rule that it could not be voted on in the lame-duck session, but House Democrats say it is on their radar for the start of the 116th Congress.

Status: Passed Senate 12/13/2018 but stalled in the House

Source: National Journal Research, 2018

Trump Administration 2018 Defense Recap 

North Korea Nuclear Talks Stalled

  • President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un met in Singapore over the summer to discuss denuclearization.
  • President Trump ended defense exercises with the South Koreans as a gesture of goodwill toward North Korea.
  • North Korea has destroyed some missile launch areas, but some reports show weapons development facilities are still active.

American Troops Deployed to the U.S.-Mexico Border

  • President Trump deployed the U.S. military to the U.S.-Mexico border just before the midterm elections in response to an arriving caravan of Central American asylum-seekers.
  • The troops were involved in mission-enhancing capabilities such as engineering and aviation support.

White House Releases its Cyberwarfare Strategy

  • In September 2018, the White House released a long-awaited cybersecurity strategy that includes giving government agencies more power to fight cybercrime.
  • House Democrats are likely to hold oversight hearings regarding the implementation of this strategy.

“I don‘t think anybody’s been more with the military than I have, as a president. In terms of funding, in terms of all the things I’ve been able to get them, including the vets. I don’t think anybody’s done more than me.” — President Trump

Source: National Journal Research, 2018

Potential 2019 Congressional Defense Agenda Items

Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) Against ISIL

  • The current legal justification for U.S. involvement in ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and other sites is the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Democrats in Congress have become increasingly concerned that this AUMF has been stretched far beyond its original jurisdiction and may seek a new AUMF against ISIL.

Potential legislation: H.R. 1229: “Repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force”

  • Sponsored by incoming Democratic Steering and Policy co-chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).
  • Would repeal the 2002 AUMF used to authorize the Iraq War conflict.

Nuclear Arsenal Reduction

  • The incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), has made it a significant priority for the 116th Congress to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
  • The initiative is widely supported by Democrats but faces opposition from House Republicans.

Potential legislation: H.R. 6840: “Hold the LYNE Act”

  • Sponsored by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and three other House Democrats, including incoming Armed Services chair, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA).
  • Would prohibit the research, development, and production of low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Source: Joe Gould, “Democrats trying to ban low-yield nuclear warhead” DefenseNews. Sept. 20, 2018; Congress.gov.

Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Funds

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), the second-highest ranking Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called for oversight hearings on the Trump administration’s “wasteful” spending on border security.
  • The remarks come after President Trump deployed U.S. troops to the Mexican border in response to a caravan of migrants making their way through Central America with the intention of entering the U.S., a move that generated significant controversy.
  • Rep. Connolly has highlighted the Trump administration’s payment of $14 million to outside consulting firm Accenture as an example of the administration’s wasteful spending on border security.

Hearings on Election Cybersecurity

  • The incoming chair of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), has stated that he will hold oversight hearings of the administration’s steps to ensure safe elections.
  • He and other Democrats have stated their intention to subpoena makers of voting machines and to interrogate state officials on their usage of $380 million obligated to them in 2017 to improve their election cybersecurity.
  • The bones of Rep. Thompson’s “Election Security Act” will also be included in the election security provisions in H.R. 1, a bundle of major provisions that House Democrats hope to pass early in 2019.

Sources: Griffin Connolly, “Top Oversight Democrat Wants Hearing on Trump ‘Wasting’ DHS Funds” Rollcall. Dec. 11, 2018. Joseph Marks, “House Democrats plan to push hard on election security next Congress.” The Washington Post. Dec. 14, 2018.

Potential 2019 Trump Administration Defense Agenda Items

A Ban on Transgender People Serving in the Military

  • In 2017, President Trump imposed a ban on transgender service members in the military, though it was blocked by a federal court.
  • In November 2018, President Trump renewed his push for the ban, asking the Supreme Court to review the case.

Improving Military Readiness

  • In December 2018, President Trump advised the Pentagon to request a $750 billion budget for FY2020.
  • The budget responds to the Pentagon’s consistent message that military readiness is in jeopardy and that a significant budget increase is needed to restore readiness.

Remove Troops from Syria

  • In March 2018, President Trump announced at a rally that he intended to withdraw all ~2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as soon as ISIS was defeated in the region.
  • In December 2018, President Trump ordered a “full and rapid” withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, announcing that ISIS had been completely defeated.
  • His announcement was met with criticism from members of his own party in Congress.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” — President Trump

Source: National Journal 2018

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