Konstantin L. via shutterstock
F-35 Lightning II Aircraft getting ready to take off (Konstantin L. via shutterstock)

WASHINGTON – The Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled a $750 billion spending blueprint for the next fiscal year that would authorize the Pentagon to purchase 94 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters powered by Pratt and Whitney engines, exceeding President Donald Trump’s request for 60 of the aircraft in Fiscal 2020.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the committee, issued a press release noting the additional support for the Lockheed Martin-made stealth fighter jets included in the panel’s National Defense Authorization Act as well as other aircraft, helicopter and submarine contracts important to Connecticut defense manufacturers.

“Connecticut plays an absolutely vital role in our defense industry thanks to the unparalleled skills and unstinting dedication of our manufacturing workforce. I was proud to fight for every dollar of defense spending in this bill – not just because it supports thousands of jobs at home in Connecticut, but because it protects our men and women in uniform around the world,” Blumenthal said.

The bill also includes $1.5 billion in funding that would allow the Pentagon to pay ahead for construction of a third Virginia class submarine in 2023. The proposal lines up with what the House Appropriations Committee approved last year in its military spending bill. Rep. Joe Courtney has been championing advanced procurement for a third submarine to meet the Navy’s need as well as boost the economy of his district.

“I’ve been working with my colleagues and their staffs on both sides of the aisle–and on both sides of the Capitol–to get this sort of coordination between the House and Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees. We’ve heard clear testimony from Navy officials that additional submarines are urgently needed to support our nation’s security, and I’ll continue to work to unify the four key defense spending committees, as well as leadership on both sides of the aisle, as we get closer to the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of this year’s defense spending bill in the coming weeks,” he said.

The Senate NDAA is a key piece of the budget puzzle for the Pentagon, authorizing defense policy for the coming year. Still to come, is the defense spending bill that is being drafted by the Senate Appropriations Committee – that bill sets the actual dollar amounts available to the Pentagon for the fiscal year. Under the budget process, the authorization and appropriation bills must still go to the full Senate for approval. A similar process is happening in the House. Once completed, the House and Senate would then hash out a final version of the two bills for congressional approval.

The House Appropriations Committee this week approved its defense spending bill, while the House Armed Services Committee isn’t expected to complete its bill for a few weeks. Democrats and Republicans noted that a major stumbling block lies ahead as no agreement has been reached to lift spending caps mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

A similar roadblock could occur in the Senate. The Trump administration budget had requested $164 billion of its military spending request to be assigned to the Overseas Contingency Operations Account that falls outside the budget caps. The Senate Armed Services Committee, however, has balked at that request and authorized just $75.9 billion for that account.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, said at a press conference that he agreed with the panel’s decision to avoid padding the contingency fund but acknowledged it would require Congress to deal with the Budget Control Act.

“Obviously, to carry out this plan, we need a prompt budget agreement to deal with the caps and provide certainty, particularly to the Department of Defense,” he said.