House passes $692B defense policy bill

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The House on Tuesday easily passed the 2018 fiscal year’s nearly $700 billion defense policy bill.

The House voted 356-70 to approve the $692 billion compromise National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) reached after negotiations between the House and Senate.

The compromise version would authorize $626.4 billion for the base defense budget and $65.7 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

{mosads}The money would go toward a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops, an increase of 20,000 active duty and reserve troops across the services, bulked up missile defense, increased operations in Afghanistan, and more ships, planes and other equipment.

The bill is moving forward without an agreement in Congress to raise budget caps, which NDAA funding levels burst through.

That means some of the money authorized could end up not coming to fruition.

While praising their final product, House Armed Services Committee leaders on both sides of the aisles acknowledged a budget agreement is needed to back it up.

“As the world grew more dangerous, we cut our defense budget, and we added to burden borne by the men and women who serve us,” committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said. “We will not rebuild and fix our problems in one year or one bill even when it is matched by an appropriations bill, which this will need to be. But we can head in the right direction. That’s what this conference report does.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the committee, added that “this is a very good product.”

“The challenge that we have going forward is what the chairman mentioned at the end there,” he continued. “This bill … goes roughly $80 billion over the budget caps. The bill can’t do that on its own. Unless the budget caps are lifted and the appropriators pass the appropriations bill that doesn’t happen. And we haven’t made a lot of progress on that.”

Outside of money, the bill makes a number of reforms to the military’s space operations — though it does not go as far as the House’s original proposal for a Space Corps.

The bill would require the deputy secretary of Defense to contract a federally funded research and development corporation not associated with the Air Force to study the possibility of creating a Space Corps in the future.

It would also eliminate the principal adviser for space, the Defense Space Council and the deputy chief of staff for space operations, which lawmakers felt added unneeded layers of bureaucracy.

The bill would further give Air Force Space Command sole authority for organizing, training and equipping all space forces within the Air Force.

“This year’s bill takes the first step to fixing the broken national security space enterprise within the Air Force,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), one of the chief backers of the Space Corps proposal. “It’s the first step in a long path to getting space right for the betterment of our warfighters. Hopefully, over the coming year, the Senate will focus on the chronic problems facing national security space and work with us to establish a separate Space Corps.”

Despite Tuesday’s overwhelming approval, one NDAA provision that remains controversial is language that would let the Pentagon sign off on unapproved medical devices and drugs for emergency use on the battlefield, rather than the FDA.

Because of that provision, the House approved a rule Tuesday that says the House clerk should not officially send the NDAA to the Senate until that chamber approves a separate House bill that narrows the provision.

In a joint statement, Thornberry and Smith said they support the compromise bill that would allow for expedited FDA approval in military medical emergencies, rather than giving the Pentagon approval authority. 

“Although we still have concerns about the impact, it would have on our men and women in the field, we are content to let this compromise move forward in the hopes of improvement,” Thornberry and Smith said in the joint statement. “To be clear, if the Armed Services Committee does not see evidence that the FDA is doing a better job meeting the needs of our troops, we will not hesitate to take action.”

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