Sending the $768 billion defense authorization bill to the Senate for a vote later this week, House lawmakers have voted in a budget that is notable both for its long-awaited changes to sexual assault investigations in the military and for formally shifting the security threat focus away from the Middle East to placing an emphasis on China.
The legislation is renewed every year to keep the Department of Defense funded and signal U.S. military priorities. After months of political fights and dropped amendments, this year's version of the defense authorization act focuses on reforming military personnel policies and cementing U.S. goals to focus on perceived military threats in the Indo-Pacific region. Though it has drawn criticism from lawmakers who wanted a larger overhaul of the military justice system, it passed the lower chamber Tuesday with broad bipartisan support.
In addition to the legislation's personnel-focused reforms, Kuzminski said the bill also signals a formal shift in the U.S. military priorities.
For more than 20 years, annual versions of the defense authorization act focused heavily on funding fights against terrorism and wars in the Middle East. Kuzminski said that the United States began to focus on defense strategies in the Pacific in 2014, but remaining involvements in Afghanistan and the Middle East meant funds were scattered.
"I think this is the first time we are really seeing a concerted effort and agreement across the executive branch and legislature that the real pacing threat we are looking at is in the Indo-Pacific region," Kuzminski said.
"A lot of our friends and allies in the region are increasingly concerned about what they see as China's increasingly belligerent attitude. So, I think there's a real growing concerned that's based on actions China has taken that are more aggressive than we've seen in the past, more frequent," Du Mont said.
The bill allocates $7.1 billion to the Pacific Deterrance Initiative to deter Chinese aggression and $4 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative focussed on combatting Russian aggression in Europe.
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