Senate panel passes $700B defense policy bill

Senate panel passes $700B defense policy bill
© Greg Nash

The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously passed its $700 billion version of the annual defense policy bill, the committee announced Wednesday.

The bill, broken down into $640 billion for the base defense budget and $60 billion for a war fund, follows the funding levels Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama Senate repeals auto-loan guidance in precedent-shattering vote Overnight Defense: Lawmakers worry over Syria strategy | Trump's base critical of strikes | Flake undecided on Pompeo | Coast Guard plans to keep allowing transgender members | GOP chair wants to cut B from Pentagon agencies MORE (R-Ariz.) has pushed for months and flies past the administration’s budget request.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “starts the process of rebuilding our military after six years of devastating cuts to our defense budget,” McCain said in a statement Wednesday. “By supporting $640 billion for defense, this legislation begins to address the readiness shortfall, crisis in modernization and eroding military advantage by recapitalizing and reinvesting in our forces.”

The Trump administration requested a $603 billion base defense budget and $65 billion for the war fund, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

In addition to going beyond the administration’s request, the Senate version now stands in contrast to the House version of the bill.

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday is marking up a $696.5 billion version of the bill. That version is broken down into $621.5 billion for the base and $75 billion for OCO.

Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) for months argued for a $640 billion base budget alongside McCain, but late last week agreed to lower his bill’s top line to match up with an emerging budget deal in the House.

In the Senate version, the extra money would go toward 6,000 more soldiers in the Army than requested by the Pentagon, as well as 1,000 more Marines than requested.

It would also authorize 24 more F-35s than requested by the administration, broken down in 14 more F-35As, four more F-35Bs and six more F-35Cs. In total, 94 F-35s would be authorized.

The bill would also provide 10 more F/A-18s than requested, for a total of 24. And it would add $5 billion for shipbuilding above the request, for a total of 13 ships.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedDem senators call on FCC to protect against robocalls Senate Dems press Trump on legal justification for potential Syria strike Overnight Defense: Pompeo grilled by Dems at nomination hearing | Faces tight panel vote | Mattis insists no decision yet on Syria | Dems seek answers on National Guard border deployment MORE (D-R.I.), ranking member of the committee, commended the bill as an “important step” but said Congress still needs to repeal the Budget Control Act, which has hampered defense funding.

“This markup is an important step in meeting the goal of both Democrats and Republicans to get our troops the resources they need to meet a variety of pressing security challenges,” Reed said in a statement. “It invests in much needed readiness to allow our fighting men and women to be properly trained and equipped for a wide range of threats. But ultimately, a strong national defense and a strong economy both depend on Congress equitably resolving the Budget Control Act spending caps and sequestration, which is outside this Committee’s jurisdiction.”

The bill would also address a number of threats from Russia to North Korea.

To respond to Russia’s violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, it would authorize $65 million for a research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile.

A summary of the bill says that funding is meant to “to begin to close the capability gap opened by the Russian violation of the INF Treaty, without placing the United States in violation of the treaty.”

The bill would also authorize the Defense secretary to establish the Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative, a program conceived by McCain to better address threats in that region, including North Korea and China.

The bill would also authorize 4,000 more visas for the Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who helped U.S. troops.

“Our nation owes a great debt to the civilians who have provided essential assistance to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and I am very pleased that this legislation authorizes the necessary visas for these brave men and women,” Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenMenendez rips characterization of Pompeo as 'nation's top diplomat' Dems give muted praise to Pompeo-Kim meeting Dem senators unveil expanded public option for health insurance MORE (D-N.H.) said in a statement. “Make no mistake, the Special Immigrant Visa program saves the lives of Afghan interpreters and support staff who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans in the field, putting themselves and their families at risk to help our soldiers and diplomats accomplish their mission and return home safely.