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Policy issues take center stage as House panel passes $716B defense authorization bill

Policy issues take center stage as House panel passes $716B defense authorization bill
© C-SPAN

The House Armed Services Committee early Thursday morning easily passed its $716 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2019.

The committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed, 60-1, after more than 14 hours of debate. It now moves to the full House for a vote later this month.

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSix people whose election wins made history Next Congress expected to have record diversity Native Americans elected to Congress in record numbers this year MORE (D-Hawaii) was the only "no" vote, and Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesSupreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising Experts warn Georgia's new electronic voting machines vulnerable to potential intrusions, malfunctions Georgia restores 22,000 voter registrations after purge MORE (R-N.C.) was not present.

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The bill would authorize nearly 16,000 additional active-duty troops across the military, provide a 2.6 percent pay raise for them — the highest such raise in nine years — and authorize almost $40 billion for aviation upgrades and more than $25 billion for equipment maintenance.

It would also authorize two more Virginia-class submarines and littoral combat ships, 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the upgrade of thousands of vehicles.

“This bill takes the crucial next steps to rebuilding our military and reforming the Pentagon. Our nation owes the men and women who serve the best equipment, the best training, the best support that it can provide,” committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Mike Rogers slated to be top House Armed Services Republican | Defense bill hits another snag | Pentagon dinged for 0M loan to trucking company using COVID funds Mike Rogers set to serve as top House Armed Services Republican Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (R-Texas) said in his opening remarks. “We have not given them our best in the past and we are seeing some of the consequences of that failure.”

The committee considered about 400 amendments before the final vote, with debates largely centered around policy issues. Congress had already agreed on the final authorized topline amount as part of a two-year budget deal earlier this year.

Thornberry originally planned to add reforms aimed at cutting the Pentagon’s defense agencies budget by more than $25 billion by 2021.

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The plan, which included closing seven of the 28 agencies not directly under military services, was pulled back slightly after pushback from Democrats and the Pentagon, leaving cuts up to the Pentagon’s chief management officer.

Still, Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing Esper, amid resignation talk, reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases MORE (D-Md.) introduced an amendment to attempt to save the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) from elimination.

“It remains unclear what would happen to DISA's missions and functions,” Brown argued of a potential shuttering, instead proposing a Pentagon report to look at the matter before any consolidation. His amendment was defeated along party lines.

But Thornberry's plan to cut the Test Resource Management Center was voted down.

Making it into the bill was an amendment offered by committee ranking member Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Mike Rogers set to serve as top House Armed Services Republican Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint MORE (D-Wash.) to establish an independent commission to study military aviation safety. The proposal comes after a series of deadly military aircraft incidents, including a C-130 cargo plane crash last week that killed all nine on board.

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Other amendments that were rejected included a proposal offered by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) that would have slowed plans for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE’s desired Space Force. It was defeated unanimously.

An amendment that would have required the Pentagon to report on the cost of Trump administration officials using military aircraft for travel was narrowly defeated, 30-31.

Other failed amendments included a provision to limit Trump’s planned Veterans Day military parade to only ceremonial units and equipment; a proposal to limit the role of National Guard troops ordered to the U.S.-Mexico border by Trump; and one to prevent Department of Defense funds from going to building a border wall.

“The basic situation is that there is nothing in this bill that authorizes, changes the situation with regard to a border wall,” Thornberry said after a lengthy back-and-forth argument on that matter. “We can debate it back and forth and I understand that, but … this is not an issue that really we’re going to affect one way or another except expressing opinions about and maybe there’s another time and place to do that.”

In addition, Republicans shot down Smith’s amendment to remove low-yield nuclear weapons from the bill, 28-33.

Updated at 10:41 a.m.