Bipartisan harmony abounds, at least temporarily, in congressional committees over military policy bills that would grow the Space Force by adding a part-time Reserve component and pump more than $140 million into Pikes Peak region military construction projects.
House and Senate panels have passed versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, with Democrats and Republicans praising each other's cooperation.
Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who takes pride in his staunch conservatism, thanked his Democratic colleagues for "leadership and for continuing the bipartisan tradition of this subcommittee."
Lamborn said that while the committees showed bipartisanship, that could change quickly when the entire House and Senate get involved next week.
“All bets are off when it gets to the floor,” he said.
Some experts have predicted that the 2021 Pentagon spending plans could be the last big budgets before austerity kicks in for 2022.
The federal government, like states and cities, has seen its tax revenue tumble this year thanks to the coronavirus, while stimulus bills have added $1.2 trillion and counting to the deficit. Some leading Democrats and fiscal hawks on the GOP side have called for future cuts to federal discretionary spending, for which the Pentagon accounts for 40%.
“It is possible that in the future budgets will be constrained because of the impacts of the coronavirus spending,” Lamborn said.
This year, leaders on both sides have pushed for rapid passage of defense bills, with no substantive cuts coming from congressional military committees.
The measure would keep defense spending relatively flat, with the Senate proposing $740 billion or just over $2 billion a day. The House came in at $731 billion, putting both chambers in the ballpark for a deal.
The Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee's readiness panel in the House, California U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, praised Lamborn's "work and partnership" on the measure.
The Authorization Act, which must pass the chambers and get hammered out in a conference committee before heading to President Donald Trump's desk, also could clear up the role that Space Force, the new satellite armed service that's centered in Colorado Springs, plays in the Department of Defense.
A string of Senate amendments add the Space Force to military policies on everything from pay to officer promotions. Getting the Space Force added clears up administrative headaches that could have bedeviled the new service.
The Space Force will also get a Reserve component under the Senate plan that would rope in the 310th Space Wing, an Air Force Reserve Wing in Colorado Springs that carries out Space Force missions, but isn't formally a part of the new service.
The same Senate measure calls for studies on the creation of a National Guard component for the Space Force. The National Guard has lobbied hard for the creation of a space component for the state militias. The study will at least wedge the Guard's foot in the door.
The more minimalist House version calls for a study of how the Space Force is handling personnel issues, including which troops are transferred from the Air Force.
While military construction spending has seen steep declines in recent years, the Pikes Peak region has held its own, Lamborn said.
The House and Senate see rapid growth ahead for the Space Force, which started the year with only Gen. Jay Raymond on its roster. The House plan grows the space service to more than 5,400 troops by September of 2021.
The House version of the bill keeps $88 million of previously planned money in place for a space operations center at Schriever Air Force Base.
Proposals also would build a new National Guard facility at Peterson Air Force Base for $15 million while plowing $34 million into Fort Carson for a new gymnasium and a Special Forces equipment maintenance facility.
Getting the measure through Congress entails a race against the clock.
A conference committee is expected to take most of July to hammer out a compromise measure that both chambers can agree upon.
But, with lawmakers taking August off, Lamborn said a bill won’t go to Trump until sometime in September. Lawmakers also need to finalize a detailed Pentagon budget, which will largely follow the policy bill, before money runs out when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.