WASHINGTON — The upcoming 2020 defense bill already has agreement on 98 percent of the issues and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee says he expects a free-wheeling bipartisan session to complete a unified bill.
Meeting with defense reporters Monday, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said “the parts of stuff we disagree over” is about 2 % of the bill, which demonstrates the bipartisan work on the committee that has produced a defense bill “for 58 years.”
Smith became committee chair when the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 elections. He said with 18 new committee members, he has to get a feel for what various priorities will be pushed by committee members.
“I tell them if you don’t have a strong opinion on something, give me the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “My general (guide) is to be inclusive.”
He said a disagreement over the final size of the bill — $733 billion in the House bill compared to the $755 billion White House request — meets what Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee would meet Pentagon needs.
“I am genuinely concerned when they (the Pentagon) have been given more money than expected, there is a lot of waste and inefficiency,” Smith said. “By giving them more, I think we encourage inefficiency.”
He also said the 2.4 percent spending increase that gets the bill to $733 billion is misleading, since some critical areas have larger percentage increases.
The House committee begins its work on the bill this week. Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version at $750 billion.
Smith also said Democrats and Republicans on the committee have agreed to language to create a streamlined Space Force — a top priority of President Donald Trump — and will insert it as an amendment to the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill on Wednesday.
He said the draft version of the bill, known as the chairman’s mark, did not include language on Space Force because “by the time we got to an agreement, it was too late to put it into the original mark.
“The main difference from the administration’s approach is less bureaucracy,” Smith told the Defense Writers Group.
Smith said he was skeptical of the Air Force’s ability to properly manage the high focus on space, which has a lower priority in that service branch than nuclear weapons, air superiority and bombers.
“I think the Air Force has not done a particularly good job of managing space,” he said. “I don’t trust the Air Force, on its own, within its existing structure, to properly prioritize space.”
Smith also said the movement away from transparency in the Pentagon that seems to be pushed by the White House has raised concern on Capitol Hill. “I don’t entirely trust the Trump administration’s approach,” Smith said. “If the facts don’t match, we’ll just change them.”
Smith said Pentagon officials have given assurances they will be more transparent — but did not commit to again make public critical information from Afghanistan that was once public and is now classified.
He also voiced concerned that the White House is trying to leave nuclear arms treaties with Russian that are designed to “prevent catastrophic war.”
Smith said he backs a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland to restrain Russia — a base Polish officials have said they could call “Fort Trump” — to deter “bad actions in the region” by Russia.
“I just want to make sure (Russian President Vladimir) Putin does not think he can do what he did in Ukraine to another eastern European country…to see what he can get away with,” Smith said.