- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2020

A House-drafted version of the massive defense policy bill seeks to establish a $1 billion pandemic response and preparedness fund as the U.S. continues to see spikes in new COVID-19 cases.

The U.S., with a population of 328.2 million, has reported more than 2.4 million cases of COVID-19 — two times more than any other country in the world. More than 124,000 have died, and 663,562 have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

In a version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act drafted by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington State Democrat, the bill would establish a $740.5 billion defense budget.

A summary of the “chairman’s mark” of the bill, released Thursday, states that $1 billion would go toward “efforts to proactively increase the country’s ability to prepare for and respond to future pandemics.” It would also contribute to protecting small businesses and boosting the Pentagon’s medical research.

A committee aide told reporters Thursday that the panel decided to “do the things that we thought we could get bipartisan agreement on and then move on and let the members decide those big issues, both in the mark and on the floor.”

While the House version of the bill encompasses a host of initiatives, it leaves out the controversial issue of renaming military bases to eliminate the Confederate names — which the Senate panel opted to include in their version of the bill. It is expected the committee will include such a provision when the full panel meets next week.

“So our expectations are that there will be a lot of things that speak to these issues,” the aide said, “and certainly the renaming of bases is a good example.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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