- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday unveiled a $750 billion defense budget that takes aim at funding construction projects on the U.S.-Mexico border, bans the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey, devotes more resources to military housing and addresses sexual assault in the military.

The proposed 2020 National Defense Authorization Act includes $3.6 billion for construction projects along the southern border, a figure well below the original $8.6 billion President Trump requested in his initial budget proposal in March for a border wall. The shortfall could portend another showdown ahead of Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2020.

The topline figure, however, is in line with Mr. Trump’s initial defense budget request of $750 billion released in March, which is a boost of about $34 billion for the Defense Department compared to the current budget.

The new NDAA would prohibit the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara concludes a deal to purchase the Russian S-400 air missile defense system. Turkish officials said they aren’t backing down on the deal, which the U.S. and Turkey’s other NATO allies fear could compromise the alliance’s defensive strategies.

The Senate blueprint bans any funding to transfer the F-35 or related equipment and intellectual property to Ankara unless the secretary of defense and secretary of state can confirm Turkey has not accepted the Russian system and certify they will not purchase the system in the future, a senior committee aide confirmed.

The budget also allocates money to build new battle-force ships, combat vehicles, and aircraft, as well as hypersonic weapons and missile defense systems, according to an executive summary of the budget.

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said the bipartisan draft included “extensive reforms…to address recent, egregious problems with the health and safety of private, on-base housing” after committee hearing that detailed substantial problems in the military housing system.

A senior committee aide said that the budget requests the Pentagon to “take a look at alternative systems in preventing sexual assault.” If authorized, the bill will include multiple provisions to improve the response to sexual misconduct and system of reporting an incident within the military.

“We are tackling the issue from every angle we can,” the aide said.

Mr. Reed spoke on behalf of Republican Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, who missed the press conference to be with his wife who broke her leg the night before.

In Mr. Inhofe’s prepared remarks, he said that the committee considered 433 amendments to the bill and adopted 298 of them.

Over the next several weeks, the Democratic-led House Armed Services Committee will release its version of the defense budget. 

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