Defense budget fight coming, Ernst says

The Pentagon (Photo by Ivan Cholakov / Shutterstock) 

The defense top-line budget will be a point of contention between the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-led House as they resolve their differences with the 2020 defense authorization bill.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, said there "will be disagreement over the types of policies" included in the NDAA that will be resolved in conference committee, and the topline budget number is chief among them for debate.

"There's a sizable difference between top lines and how we iron that out will come down to conference committee," Ernst said at a June 18 event at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Republicans are looking to fulfill an administration push for a $750 billion budget while House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has held firm that a $733 billion defense budget would still be the most Congress has ever authorized and that a windfall of unplanned funds typically leads to waste.

Ernst wouldn't directly address whether the elevated budget would be sustainable long-term but said that the U.S. needs "to be putting forward the dollar amount that will help us modernize ... because it's the emerging technologies that we really do need to focus on, put a little more effort into. Because our adversaries are doing the same."

Ernst also addressed ongoing supply chain and trade controversies, telling the audience that she "would rather we not use Chinese technology."

"We don't know what also is embedded in that technology. So if they are expanding internet networks across an allied country, what are they able to pull from data and utilize in their government?" she asked.

Those concerns spill over to commercial technologies, especially when they could have defense uses.

The 2019 defense bill authorized a blanket ban on the use of telecommunications equipment from Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE, and provisions in appropriations bills dating back to 2013 have cracked down on the use of Chinese-made tech gear in U.S. government information systems. The issue has escalated in recent weeks with the U.S. government banning U.S. companies from selling software and components to Huawei, meaning that he company's devices will no longer receive Android operating system updates or chips from U.S. firms like Qualcomm and Broadcom.

President Donald Trump announced on Twitter June 18 that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping would meet during the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. Xi reportedly told Chinese media that he hopes the U.S. will treat Chinese companies fairly, CNBC reported.

Ernst cautioned the White House from trading away Huawei restrictions to make a deal. "I would certainly hope we don't trade any concerns with Huawei to get a trade deal done," she said. "I think we need to stand firm."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.


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