By John Isaacs and Monica Montgomery
In an end-of-the-year burst of energy after months of bitter disagreements and procrastination, Congress finally approved the fiscal year 2021 omnibus appropriations bill on December 21. The bill, totaling $1.4 trillion across 12 individual appropriations bills, was packaged with a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill and other various measures, totaling 5,593 pages.
In a late-night session, the House took two separate votes on the measure, passing four appropriations bills, including the Department of Defense bill, 327-85 and the rest of the package 359-53. The Senate then overwhelmingly approved the total measure 92-6.
The Department of Defense received the largest sum of funding in the $1.4 trillion appropriations package – $696 billion, an increase of $2.6 billion above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level, and $2.1 billion below the President’s budget request. Of that total, $69 billion is contained in the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, the Pentagon’s slush fund to circumvent agreed-upon budget caps and fund defense priorities well beyond the original scope of the warfighting fund.
Total defense spending appropriated by Congress for fiscal year 2021 totals $740.5 billion after adding in defense-related spending in the Energy and Water Development, Homeland Security, and Military Construction appropriations portions of the omnibus bill.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) received $19.7 billion in the bill, $15.3 billion of which is for weapons activities, a $3 billion increase above last year’s spending after a successful power play in early 2020 by the White House and its allies to bump nuclear weapons funding above previously projected levels.
Indeed, nuclear weapons modernization programs, part of an estimated $2 trillion plan to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next three decades, were big winners in the bill:
- $4.4 billion for a new ballistic missile submarine, the Columbia Class
- $2.8 billion for a new long-range bomber, the B-21
- $2.7 billion for NNSA stockpile major modernization programs, including the B61-12, W80-4, W87-1, W88, and W93
- $1.4 billion for a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent
- $1.4 billion for plutonium pit production
- $1.2 billion for a program to extend the life of the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile
- $385 million for a new nuclear cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO)
The total amount approved for nuclear weapons in the bill is estimated to be $44.5 billion.
In a victory, the package restores Medicaid access for Marshallese and other Pacific islanders residing in the United States who have not had access due to a mistake made in a bill nearly 25 years ago. These communities are granted special rights and protections under the Compact of Free Association (COFA) agreement after the U.S. military used their homelands as nuclear explosive testing grounds in the 20th century.
With President-elect Biden’s administration taking office on January 20, 2021, one of its early actions will be to produce a fiscal year 2022 budget request. After four years of increased nuclear budgets from the Trump administration, next year’s budget provides Biden an early opportunity to cut back the massive nuclear weapons modernization plan, which is not set to peak for around another decade.