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House easily passes $717B defense authorization bill

House easily passes $717B defense authorization bill
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The House on Thursday effortlessly passed its $717 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2019, with more than 100 Democrats backing the measure alongside Republicans.

The House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed 351-66, with 131 Democrats siding with 220 Republicans to support the bill. Among those who voted against the bill were seven Republicans.

“The best way to summarize this bill is that it takes the next steps,” Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said on the House floor before the vote.

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“The next steps to rebuilding our military and reforming the Pentagon, the next steps towards strengthening our country's national security,” he said.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Atheist group argues in court for prayer rights on House floor Small-dollar donations explode in the Trump era MORE (R-Wis.) also said on the floor that the bill “presents another major step toward rebuilding and reforming our military. ... It starts with readiness.”

“This bill invests in training, this bill invests in equipment, it grows the size of all branches of our military and it prioritizes missile defense in our nuclear deterrent. It’s a very dangerous world and this legislation will help us counter the threats, new or traditional,” Ryan said.

Prior to the vote, Democrats argued for amendments eventually voted down on immigration, gun control and limiting nuclear spending, but ultimately backed the bill over readiness concerns.

“There is a very real readiness problem within our military as we have underfunded that to fund the short-term needs presented by the conflicts. The most important thing about this bill is that it really begins to pay that back,” said Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

But the bill was not without its issues. Receiving a large amount of Democratic pushback was a provision that would authorize $65 million to develop a new “low-yield” nuclear weapon to be launched from submarines. The Trump administration wants the new warhead as part of its recent Nuclear Posture Review, released earlier this year.

“This bill … pushes us even further and faster down the path to war, toward a new nuclear arms race,” said Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security MORE (D-Calif.), who offered an amendment along with Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda Marijuana and the midterms MORE (D-Ore.) to hold off on half the weapon’s funding until an assessment on its impact.

Such proposals to limit nuclear weapons spending were voted down.

Also objected to was language that would cut several Pentagon support agencies.

Thornberry had first planned to have reforms in the bill aimed at cutting the Pentagon’s defense agencies budget by more than $25 billion by 2021.

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

Of the $717 billion authorized, the House NDAA includes $617 billion in base spending, $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations war fund and $22 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department.

The bill would approve nearly 16,000 additional active-duty troops across the military, providing a 2.6 percent pay raise for them — the highest such raise in nine years.

It would also authorize more than $25 billion for equipment maintenance, three more Navy ships than requested by the Navy, 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the upgrade of thousands of vehicles.

Among the provisions included in the bill was an amendment offered by Smith to establish an independent commission to study military aviation safety.

The bill also includes an authorized $39 billion for military aviation upgrades after a series of deadly military aircraft incidents in the past year.

The measure now moves to conference with the Senate’s version of the bill, still to be considered by the full chamber. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved it version of the legislation in closed session Wednesday.