Defense

House easily passes $717B annual defense policy bill

The House on Thursday easily passed the $717 billion annual defense policy bill, keeping it on track to become law before the start of the fiscal year for the first time since fiscal 1997.

The House approved the compromise fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a 359-54 vote, sending it to the Senate for a final vote expected as early as next week.

{mosads}“This bill takes a major step forward in rebuilding our military, reforming the Pentagon and better preparing this country to deal with the national security challenges which lay before us,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said on the House floor.

The bill — named this year after Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is at home undergoing treatment for brain cancer — would authorize about $639 billion for the base budget of the Pentagon and defense programs of the Energy Department. It would also allow for another $69 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

The bill follows with the administration’s request for a 2.6 percent pay raise for troops, an increase of about 15,600 troops across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, and 77 F-35 fighter jets. On ships, the bill exceeds the administration’s request, for a total 13 new ships.

What would have been the most controversial provision of the bill was jettisoned during House-Senate negotiations to reconcile each chamber’s version.

The initial Senate-passed version of the NDAA included a provision that would have blocked President Trump’s plan to save Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, which had been slapped with penalties after admitting violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

The final bill aligns with the initial House-passed version and would ban the government from contracting with ZTE and Huawei, another Chinese telecommunications company, or companies that do business with those two.

Asked Monday why the Senate provision was dropped, House Armed Services staffers told reporters the conference negotiations were focused on what was in the purview of the defense committees.

Thornberry and House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) later told the House Rules Committee the provision was dropped because it would have cost $1 billion that would have had to be cut from mandatory spending. That’s because Trump’s deal with ZTE included a $1 billion fine the government would have to give back if the deal was reversed.

“I don’t agree necessarily with the parliamentarian’s ruling there, that the billion dollars that ZTE paid is something we should have had to offset if we undid the deal, but we have to live by the law,” Smith said Thursday on the floor.

“And this was also mandatory spending, so if we were going to get rid of the ZTE deal and get rid of that billion dollars, we would have literally had to cut retirement, health care from the men and women who serve in the military. I don’t think that’s something that anyone on this floor would have been willing to do.”

Also dropped from the final bill was a House-passed provision that would have blocked endangered species protections for the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken for 10 years.

One closely watched provision that did make it into the final bill was Defense Secretary James Mattis’s request for an ability to waive sanctions on partner countries that have bought Russian arms in the past but want to now buy U.S. weapons.

Mattis argued the provision was necessary to more closely align India, Vietnam and Indonesia with the United States, but some Democrats expressed concern the provision would loosen sanctions on Russia. 

Mattis did not win a separate fight with Congress over provisions in the bill on Turkey. The final bill would block transfers of the F-35 to Ankara until the Pentagon completes an assessment of U.S.-Turkish relations.

Lawmakers are concerned about Turkey’s plan to buy the S-400 air-defense system from Russia, its detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson and its moves in Syria against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Tags Adam Smith Defense bill Donald Trump House James Mattis John McCain Mac Thornberry NDAA ZTE

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