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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 MerkleyFCC reaffirms order rolling back net neutrality regulations Electric vehicles see state-level gains GOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation 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 ShelbyWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag | Company layoffs mount as pandemic heads into fall | Initial jobless claims drop to 837,000 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 DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  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.