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Rep. Smith wants $3.6 billion to study how to counter China

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, questions then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter Aug. 1, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Glenn Fawcett/Department of Defense)
June 26, 2020

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced a $3.6 billion plan on Thursday to determine the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s strategy, which is focused on countering China.

Smith’s plan, the Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative, calls for more Pentagon analysis on the Indo-Pacific before Congress would agree to spend more on specific equipment for U.S. forces in the strategic region, Defense News reported.  The plan outlines requirements for the defense secretary and the chief of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to rethink its strategy for the region and provide regional allies with a list of locations for proposed assets, and a budget and timeline for when those assets will be implemented.

Smith’s plan further requires budget justifications materials on an annual basis, starting in the 2022 fiscal year. The plan would set out the lowest initial dollar amount for supporting U.S. operations in the Indo-Pacific and focus primarily on determining a strategy for U.S. forces in the region. The plan draws from the base budget already set in President Trump’s budget request.

The plan comes after Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced in January that countering China and Russia would be the top priority for his defense strategy. Indo-Pacific Command also outlined a $20 billion plan that would allow the U.S. to maintain a military advantage over China.

Smith’s plan is one of three competing proposals that will be debated by members of the committee as they prepare the annual defense budget. The other two other plans, both called the Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative, propose more money for bolstering U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific.

One of the competing budgets, the Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative, introduced by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, calls for $6 billion for the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific policy in fiscal year 2021. His plan also details specific priorities, such as air and missile defense systems and military construction projects to assist partner countries in the region.

In addition to Thornberry’s plan in the House, another version of the Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative in the U.S. Senate specifies $1.4 billion in defense spending in 2021 and an additional $5.5 billion in 2022.

Smith’s and Thornberry’s competing measures will face the House committee’s mark-up on July 1. Whichever language survives the mark-up and amendments on the House floor will comprise the House’s proposal for the 2021 defense budget.

Facing tougher odds in the Democrat-controlled committee, Thornberry’s office indicated in a Thursday memo that he will offer amendments on Smith’s language to get it closer to the measures he wants on the Indo-Pacific budget and policy.

Thornberry’s memo said Smith’s plan lacks “several important elements” and Thornberry’s amendments will be “focused on specific authorities and investments needed to strengthen greater cooperation with allies and partners.”

Once the House finalizes its version of the 2021 defense budget, lawmakers in the House and Senate will then have to reconcile the differences between their two bills.