Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner says a defense policy bill that passed his chamber this week is a win for Colorado Springs with a new Space Force and bigger paychecks for the region’s 40,000 active-duty troops.
The National Defense Authorization Act is still awaiting a House vote, then will go to committee where differences between the chambers are hammered out. The Senate version, with spending set at $750 billion, redesignates Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs as the Space Force, with Gen. Jay Raymond at the top of the new service.
“This will benefit Colorado Springs for generations to come,” Gardner told The Gazette in a call from Washington.
President Donald Trump has pushed for a separate Space Force for the past two years, even getting revelers at his rallies to chant the name of the new service branch.
But getting a space service through Congress has been a fight, and the Senate proposal is a slimmed-down version of an earlier Pentagon plan.
Gardner said the Senate sought to grow space capabilities for the military without ballooning bureaucracy. He said that goal is accomplished by taking the established space headquarters in Colorado Springs and putting it atop the new service.
The Space Force remains part of the Air Force, in a management scheme that mimics the relationship between the Navy and the Marine Corps. That means there’s no new service secretary and accompanying staff at the Pentagon and the Air Force will provide the Space Force with its cooks, medics, lawyers and other necessities outside the realm of orbit.
“It’s is using Air Force assets,” Gardner said. “That’s a good thing.”
The Senate plan also includes a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops. It brings nearly $150 million in military construction cash to the Pikes Peak region, including $71 million for Fort Carson, $54 million for Peterson Air Force Base and $23 million for Schriever Air Force Base.
The Senate plan is less generous in construction cash than a current House proposal but includes a plan that pushes more money into future budgets.
The Senate plan has more cash overall for the Pentagon, but the deal could be scuttled unless Congress agrees to lift mandatory spending caps through “sequestration” — a holdover from an Obama-era deficit-cutting plan championed by the GOP.
Gardner said he’s hopeful lawmakers can reach a long-term budget fix, without resorting to temporary measures that have staved off cuts while leaving the spending caps in place.
Gardner also inserted a provision into the military bill that some would see as a swipe at the Trump administration by stiffening sanctions on North Korea.
President Trump has expressed confidence that North Korea is backing away from its nuclear programs thanks to his personal diplomacy with dictator Kim Jong Un. Gardner said he has less faith that North Korea can be easily persuaded to give up its nuclear ambitions.
“Count me as skeptical,” he said.
Gardner also praised efforts in the bill to boost security cooperation in Taiwan and to back the people of Hong Kong who are struggling to stave off China’s proposals to crack down on dissidents.
The Senate bill also breaks new ground on the military’s issues with contamination from firefighting foam laden with perfluorinated chemicals.
The measure seeks to speed environmental cleanup of the compounds, including contamination in the Widefield Aquifer that impacted thousands of people in Security, Widefield and Fountain after firefighter training at Peterson Air Force Base fouled groundwater.
The measure also mandates the first blood tests for military firefighters exposed to the foam. The Defense Department has spent years battling against testing, calling it unnecessary.
The House is expected to vote on its version of the defense plan in July.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx