A House defense funding bill stops the Navy from decommissioning Littoral Combat Ships and two amphibious warships, and places restrictions on service member travel for reproductive care, according to the text of the bill released on Wednesday.
The bill from the House Appropriations defense subcommittee outlines $826.45 billion for the Department of Defense in Fiscal Year 2024, in line with a budget deal reached earlier this month between the Biden administration and House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to prevent the U.S. default on its national debt.
The negotiated deal called for the defense committees to craft budgets inline with the presidential budget submission from earlier this year. In the last two budget cycles, there was a bipartisan push to plus up the defense budget from the initial presidential submission.
The bill allots $32.9 billion for nine new construction ships – a Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, two Virginia-class nuclear attack boats, two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, two Constellation-class frigates, an America-class big deck amphibious warship, a John Lewis-class fleet oiler and a new-design submarine tender.
The bill only funds $16 million for the San Antonio-class amphibious warship program. The Department of the Navy has paused the acquisition of new San Antonios pending a Pentagon review of amphibious requirements and cost. The pause in acquisition has prompted protest from a bipartisan group of lawmakers that had set the floor for the amphibious force at 31 ships.
The bill also prevents the Navy from decommissioning two older Whidbey Island-class amphibious warships, USS Germantown (LSD-42) and USS Tortuga (LSD-46), and any Littoral Combat Ships. Though the LCS isn’t specified, the Navy proposed decommissioning the Independence-class ships USS Jackson (LCS-6) and USS Montgomery (LCS-8). This sets up a disagreement with authorizers over ship decommissionings.
The House Armed Services Committee seapower and project forces subcommittee’s mark of the FY 2024 policy bill prevents the Navy from decommissioning Germantown, Tortuga, USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers USS Cowpens (CG-63) and USS Shiloh (CG-67). The seapower panel notably did not stop the Navy from decommissioning the two Littoral Combat Ships.
In terms of personnel costs, such as for pay, travel during permanent changes of station and clothing, the bill would give $37 billion to the Navy and $15 billion to the Marine Corps, funding an end strength of 347,000 sailors and 172,000 Marines.
Rounding out the 144-page bill are stipulations for Department of Defense funding that align with conservative priorities, according to a statement accompanying the text of the bill.
The defense bill prevents the use of DoD funds for a number of social issues, including gender-affirming care and leaves for reproductive care not covered by TRICARE, including abortions and in-vitro fertilization.
As written, the bill would prevent any funding to go toward leave for reproductive care, which would countermand the policies laid out in an Oct. 20, 2022 memorandum from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Additionally, no funding could go toward any program or training on critical race theory and the bill stipulates that no funding go toward educational programs that suggest the United States is systemically racist or sexist. The bill also prohibits funding of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan of the Department of Defense, published in 2021, and defunds the position of Deputy Inspector General for Diversity and Inclusion and Extremism in the Military.
The bill also says DoD funds cannot go toward several medical treatments for transgender service members, including hormone therapy and surgery. Currently, TRICARE covers hormone therapy and gender dysmorphia therapy, although service members can apply for a waiver through the Supplemental Health Care Program for gender-affirming therapy.