Senate panel passes $574.5B defense bill

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The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed its defense appropriations bill Thursday, a stark contrast to partisan debates on this year’s other defense appropriations and policy bills.

{mosads}“I especially appreciate that this bill conforms to the bipartisan budget agreement and refrains from gimmicks that not only shortchange non-defense priorities, but also our military by creating, as the House has, a dangerous war funding cliff for next year,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said. “Instead this bill responsibly addresses the readiness and well-being of our troops and our national defense requirements.”

The Senate defense appropriations bill would set defense spending at $574.5 billion for fiscal 2017. That would be split with $515.9 billion in base spending and $58.6 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

By contrast, the House defense appropriations bill would provide $517.1 billion for base spending and $58.6 billion for the OCO fund. But $15.7 billion of the war funding would be used for base requirements such as readiness, infrastructure and modernization. That means the OCO account would be empty by April 2017.

The House version of the defense authorization bill would also only authorize war funding through April. Most Democrats voted against the bill and the White House issued a veto threat, in part because of the OCO issue.

Opponents of the OCO tactic say it would effectively blow up a bipartisan budget agreement reached last year and potentially leave troops deployed overseas without the money they need to keep fighting.

Like the Senate appropriations bill, the Senate defense authorization measure sticks to the budget agreement. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is hoping to amend it on the floor to add $17 billion, which is prompting Democratic backlash.

But in the Senate Appropriations Committee, Republicans and Democrats alike praised the measure.

“The bill recommends funding to increase for our military services; it sustains U.S. force structure; and it provides stability to our men and women in uniform and to their families,” said Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the committee.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), ranking member of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said the bill was “truly a bipartisan enterprise.”

“The chairman really focused on standing by the budget agreement that we all voted for,” Durbin said. “Clearly there are others that see it differently and want to change that agreement. But Chairman Cochran made it clear from the start that there would be no gimmicks in this bill.”

Among the expenses in the bill are $212.5 billion for operations and maintenance, $20.5 billion for Navy shipbuilding, $396.6 million for next-generation rocket engines for space launches, $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative meant to deter Russia, and $1.8 billion to build the capacity of local fighters combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

— Updated at 1:33 p.m.

Tags Dick Durbin John McCain Tammy Baldwin Thad Cochran
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