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 GabbardSeveral 2020 Dems say they're ready to face Fox News town hall More than one in 10 in new poll say men are 'better suited emotionally' for politics Buttigieg second most talked-about candidate on cable news shows: analysis MORE (D-Hawaii) was the only "no" vote, and Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesNorth Carolina reporter says there could be 'new crop' of GOP candidates in 9th Congressional District race House pays tribute to Walter Jones GOP leader presses Trump to agree to border deal 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 ThornberryOvernight Defense: Air Force general tapped for Pentagon No. 2 | Dem presses Trump officials on Yemen strike | Pentagon details 4M border deployment cost Top Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Top senators warn Turkey: Choose between Russia missile system or US fighter jet 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 BrownDivided Dems look to regroup Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children Transgender troops rally as Pentagon prepares to implement ban 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 team spurns Adam Smith with its trade stance Top Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Overnight Defense: House votes to condemn transgender military ban | 5 Republicans vote against ban | Senate bill would block Turkey getting F-35s over Russia deal 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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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.