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US House to vote on low-yield nukes and transgender troops this week

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WASHINGTON―As if the fight over military spending wasn’t heated enough, House lawmakers are poised to battle on the chamber floor this week over controversial rules regarding transgender service members and new low-yield nuclear weapons as part of their defense appropriations work.

Debate on a $983 billion, four-bill spending “minibus” has been ongoing for days thanks to parliamentary delays by House Republicans upset with the funding proposal. After late-night votes last week, the work is set restart Tuesday with dozens more amendments to the package, 56 of them related to defense.

The latest in the House’s running partisan battle on nuclear weapons, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., has sponsored an amendment that adds $19.6 million for the W76-2 warhead ordered by Nuclear Posture Review to match Russia.

The House Armed Services Committee last week rejected a series of Republican amendments aimed at preserving funds for the nuclear arsenal, including a similar one from Cheney to protect deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons on submarines, the W76-2.

Rep. Gallagher, R-Wis., sponsored an amendment that provides $96 million in research funding for “INF-range conventional missile systems,” offset by corresponding reduction to defense-wide operation and maintenance.

Trump administration in 2018 announced US will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in in 2018, which limited medium-range land-based ballistic missiles. Russia has since suspended its own compliance.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., sponsored an amendment that bars funding for research on the Long Range Stand Off Weapon, or LRSO. Pentagon officials have argued the weapon is needed to replace the aging air-launched cruise missile program, while some Democrats have long argued adversaries could confuse a conventional cruise missile with an LRSO.

On transgender troops, House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced an amendment to prevent the Defense Department from spending funds to implement its policy on open transgender service. It targets a March 12 memo that would largely bar transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex, and require most individuals to serve in their birth gender.

The vote comes days after President Donald Trump claimed inaccurately both that transgender troops represent tremendous medical costs and that the military bars troops from using prescription drugs. Trump is expected to get backing from congressional Republicans at the vote this week.

The Trump administration’s policy bars people who have undergone gender transition from enlisting. It also requires military personnel to serve as their biological gender unless they began a gender transition under less restrictive Obama administration rules. The policy is being challenged in court.

The House passed a nonbonding resolution resolution opposing Trump‘s transgender ban in March, with backing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The vote then was a largely partisan 238-185, with Republicans providing all the “no” votes.

At the time, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, defended the administration’s policy as “a bedrock principle” of the military, that troops “meet the high standards for military service, without special accommodations, should be permitted to serve.”

The House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the 2020 defense policy bill was expected to provide a venue for debate on the issue, but staffers have the vehicle will be a floor amendment on that bill.

The debate comes as the GOP-controlled Senate is set to begin debate on its version of the 2020 defense policy bill, which would authorize $750 billion for national defense―$642.5 for the Defense Department and $23.2 billion for Energy Department programs.

The House’s minibus this week contains Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, Defense, State-Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development―with $645.1 billion in base defense funding, and $68.1 billion in the budget-cap exempt wartime funding account.

The minibus’s progress has crawled because Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, has insisted on roll call votes for most amendments to the bill. He and other conservatives are expected to continue to derail the fast track process that typically governs bills by bipartisan agreement.

House Democrats are also offering a second $383 billion package that includes Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

To avoid another government shutdown, Congress must pass 12 appropriations bills by Oct. 1, though the Senate Appropriations Committee hasn’t yet moved any of its bills. Negotiations between the White House and and lead lawmakers on a deal to ease budget caps has been ongoing, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said last week.

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