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
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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 GabbardSaagar Enjeti: Tuesday's Democratic debate already 'rigged' against Gabbard, Sanders Former 2020 candidate Mike Gravel: 'No question' Sanders is physically fit to be president So many issues, too many candidates and so little time to debate MORE (D-Hawaii) was the only "no" vote, and Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesRepublican Greg Murphy wins special election in NC's 3rd District Early voting extended in NC counties impacted by Dorian ahead of key House race The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina special election poses test for GOP ahead of 2020 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 ThornberryFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble Cheney slated to introduce bill to place sanctions on Turkey 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 BrownSunday Show Preview: Trump's allies and administration defend decision on Syria A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress 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 SmithTop Democrats warn against withdrawing from treaty that allows observation flights over Russia This year, let's cancel the Nobel Prize in economics Pentagon space agency to request .6 billion over five years: report 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 TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report 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.