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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 GabbardGabbard says being Saudi Arabia's 'bitch' is not 'America First' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Gabbard considering 2020 run: report MORE (D-Hawaii) was the only "no" vote, and Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesHow Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms Trump deals with Saudis may be worth much less than 0 billion GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-N.C.) was not present.

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 ThornberryHouse lawmakers warn Trump of 'disastrous consequences' without 3B for defense Armed Services chairmen meet with Trump on potential cuts to Defense Overnight Defense: Trump at G-20 | Calls Ukraine 'sole reason' for canceling Putin meeting | Senate passes resolution condemning Russian actions | Armed Services chairmen warn against defense cuts 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.

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 BrownDemocrats with military background offer support for Pelosi House panels set up to probe indicted GOP Reps. Collins, Hunter Watchdog says administration officials made misleading statements on FBI headquarters 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 SmithPush to pay congressional interns an hour gains traction with progressives Armed Services chairmen meet with Trump on potential cuts to Defense Armed Services chairmen: Trump plan to cut defense spending 'would be dangerous' 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.

Other amendments that were rejected included a proposal offered by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) that would have slowed plans for President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony 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.