Parades, space command: Trump's military wish list in DOD policy bill

Written by on May 25, 2018

iStock(WASHINGTON) — The bill establishing Pentagon policy for the next fiscal year includes items on President Donald Trump’s military wish list, including giving service members a pay raise, laying ground rules for a military parade and making progress on establishing a military branch focused on outer space.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of a more than $700 billion military authorization bill Thursday and is now awaiting a Senate floor vote, while the House of Representatives has already passed its version, where some of Trump’s wish-list items are better detailed. The National Defense Authorization Act sets spending levels, but then Congress must pass a separate bill to actually allocate funds.

Here’s a look at some of the items that President Trump will likely be paying closest attention to:

SERVICE MEMBER PAY RAISE: In both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA service members get a 2.6% pay raise. The House version also extends special pay and bonuses to service members in high-demand fields. Earlier this year Trump erroneously said he gave service members their first pay raise in 10 years, when in fact they have had their salaries raised at least 1 percent every year for more than 30 years. What is correct is that this is the largest pay increase service members have seen in nine years.

MILITARY PARADE: The House version of the NDAA gives the Secretary of Defense the authority to fund a military parade in Washington, D.C., to satisfy President Trump’s stated desire for an event like the Bastille Day parade he witnessed during his trip to Paris. In a statement, House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry said he “agrees with President Trump that it is appropriate to honor and celebrate 100 years of patriotic sacrifice in a way that expresses appreciation and admiration for our men and women in uniform, including a parade in the nation’s capital and a national celebration for that purpose.”

But the bill also puts significant limits on the amount of military equipment and personnel that can be devoted to the parade – all at the Secretary of Defense’s discretion.

Language in the House bill allows the Secretary of Defense to expend funds specifically “for the display of small arms and munitions” as well as the participation of ceremonial military units, but it also expressly prohibits the use of funds for “motorized vehicles, aviation platforms” and munitions other than those used for customary ceremonial honors. Thornberry’s statement added that his proposal would prohibit the use of operational units or equipment in the parade if the Secretary of Defense believes their inclusion would hamper readiness.

The Senate version, named after Armed Services Committee chair John McCain, R-Ariz., does not contain any language covering President Trump’s desire for an elaborate military parade in Washington D.C. like the one he witnessed during a trip to Paris which commemorated Bastille Day. “There was discussion about it in committee but it ultimately was not added,” a Senate Armed Services Committee aide told reporters Friday.

SPACE FIGHTING: President Trump has occasionally expressed his desire to see the United States’ military dominance expand in outer space, alluding to an eventual new military corps. “I said, ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force,’” he said at an event in March. “And I was not really serious. And then I said, ‘What a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that. That could happen. That could be the big breaking story.”

So far, Congress and the military haven’t caught up to Trump’s lofty plans, but they have been laying the groundwork. Last year, in fact, the House Armed Services Committee tried to establish a Space Corps within the Air Force, similar to the Navy’s Marine Corps, but the Senate committee sought to expressly prohibit any such setup. The compromise between the two committees was to require several bureaucratic steps to consolidate the Air Force’s command of military space operations.

This year, the House’s request is slightly different. It seeks to establish a fighting force, housed within the Air Force, which would be dedicated to space warfighting, giving it less autonomy than a separate corps would. It also requires the Secretary of the Air Force to increase the number and improve the quality of its civilian and military “space cadre,” submitting a report to Congress on its plans by next March.

The Senate’s bill has no language on space but an aide said last year’s NDAA provided a “pretty significant homework assignment” for the Air Force to focus on, including standing up Air Force Space Command as the single authority for all decisions related to space security.

“The committee is waiting to see what comes out of the department on that,” the aide said.

The Senate could vote on its NDAA as soon as the first week of June, after which point the two committees must merge their bills in a conference committee.

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