House Armed Services unveils $696.5B defense policy bill

House Armed Services unveils $696.5B defense policy bill
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The House Armed Services Committee unveiled a $696.5 billion defense policy bill on Monday.

The committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would authorize $28.5 billion more than what was requested by President Trump, but is $8.5 billion less than what the committee’s chairman said he was moving ahead with last week.

The bill would be broken down into $621.5 billion for the base budget and $75 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

Of the OCO, $10 billion would be used for base budget requirements.

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On Thursday, committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he was moving forward with a $640 billion base budget, a number he’s been pushing for months. Coupled with $65 billion for the OCO account, the total would have been $705 billion.

But that version would have been in conflict with the $621 billion defense base budget being eyed by the Budget Committee. As such, Thornberry said he could be convinced to lower his bill’s top line if he received assurances on future defense budgets.

On Monday, committee aides said the chairman received the assurances he was looking for, but declined to elaborate.

“Out of respect for the fact that some of those negotiations are still ongoing — the Budget Committee is still waiting to mark up — I’m not comfortable in getting into the specifics of that, but what I would say is what the chairman said last week absolutely still holds,” an aide told reporters at a background briefing.

"He wouldn't have put out the mark at this level if he wasn't comfortable about the trajectory of those discussions," the aide added later.

Committee aides likewise demurred when asked what specifically was cut from the NDAA to reach the lower top line.

“As these discussions were ongoing, we were looking at different ways to build the mark and so I can’t point to specifics because there wasn’t one document we handed the members and then handed them a document with a different set of number,” the aide said.

In general, the aide added, items that the committee felt could wait until fiscal year 2019 were given less money than items the committee felt were needed in fiscal 2018.

For example, restoration and maintenance on facilities received less money this year than the committee would have liked, while the Army end strengthen increase was fully funded.

“If they want to increase end strength in FY19, you need to start in 18,” the aide said.

The bill would add 17,000 soldiers to the Army — that's above the president’s budget request but in line with the unfunded requirements list the service sent to Congress.

That breaks down into 10,000 soldiers for active duty, 4,000 for Army National Guard and 3,000 for reserve.

The bill would provide a 2.4 percent pay raise to troops, above the 2.1 percent requested by the administration.

The bill would also provide the Navy five ships more than requested by the administration: one destroyer, two Littoral Combat Ships, one amphibious dock landing ship and one Expeditionary Support Base.

On aircraft, the bill would provide 17 more F-35s than requested and eight more F/A-18s. In all, the bill would provide 87 aircraft above the administration’s request for 289.

Additionally, the bill would provide $2.5 billion more for missile defense than the $9.9 billion requested by the administration. The extra money would go toward research and development, and procurement.

“There are a number of steps taken in the mark to not only plus up funding for critical interceptors and the ground-based midcourse defense system, but to also levy some requirements to develop a space-based sensor layer for ballistic missile defense,” the aide said.

Updated at 5:10 p.m.