Senate panel approves $675B Pentagon spending bill

Senate panel approves $675B Pentagon spending bill
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The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday easily passed its $675 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2019.

The committee approved the bill 30-1, with the only no vote coming from Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick Democratic senators condemn Trump for calling on China to investigate Bidens MORE (D-Ore.).

The bill would provide $607.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $67.9 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) account.

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The funding level represents a $20.4 billion increase over the Pentagon’s fiscal 2018 enacted level.

The bill makes research and development a focus, with a $95 billion research and development budget that would be the largest in the Pentagon’s history.

The bill would make investments in a number of advanced technologies, including $929 million for hypersonics, $308 million for artificial intelligence and $317 million for the directed energy.

“[Defense Secretary James] Mattis has warned us that failure to modernize our military risks leaving us with a force that could dominate the last war, but be irrelevant to tomorrow’s security,” committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Senate eyes attempt to jump-start government funding bills Meet Trump's most trusted pollsters MORE (R-Ala.) said. “These investments I believe are needed in order for our military to maintain its technological superiority.”

The money also would go toward giving troops a 2.6 percent pay raise. It would also boost active-duty and reserve force levels by 6,961 troops.

The bill would also provide $24 billion for Navy shipbuilding, funding the construction of 13 new ships. That includes two Virginia-class submarines, three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and two littoral combat ships.

The spending bill also has $42.2 billion for aviation procurement, including 89 F-35 fighter jets, or 12 more than the Pentagon requested. Those 12 extra, for which $1.2 billion would be allocated, would be split between eight F-35Cs for the Navy and four F-35Bs for the Marine Corps.

The bill would also give $10.5 billion to the Missile Defense Agency, including $100 million for the development of a space-based Missile Defense Tracking System to detect conventional ballistic missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles.

Though the bill garnered bipartisan support, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSchumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever Senators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds DEA allowed more opioids even as overdose deaths rose | Judge temporarily blocks Georgia abortion law | Three states report more vaping deaths | Dem proposes new fix for surprise medical bills MORE (D-Ill.), ranking member of the committee’s defense subpanel, reiterated his concerns that a cumbersome procurement process is wasting money. 

“I have asked at several hearings how it is we can be falling behind on military technology to a country like Russia with a military budget of $80 billion a year and a gross domestic product smaller than the state of New York,” he said. “One reason is we spend too much on bureaucracy and redundancy and a procurement process which is clearly broken and wasteful.”

Updated at 12:16 p.m.