Senate panel approves $740B defense policy bill

Senate panel approves $740B defense policy bill
© Greg Nash

The Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced its $740.5 billion annual defense policy bill, the panel said Thursday.

The fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was approved by the committee in a 25-2 vote during a closed-door session Wednesday.

“This year marks the 60th year in a row that the committee has fulfilled our constitutional duty to provide for the common defense by advancing the National Defense Authorization Act — once again with overwhelming support,” committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE (R-Okla.) said in a statement.

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“Building on the last two years, this year’s NDAA charts a decisive course of action to implement the National Defense Strategy, regain a credible military deterrent, and, ultimately, achieve a lasting peace, not only for us, but for our children and grandchildren,” Inhofe added.

This year’s NDAA wades into controversy at a time of nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice. Amendments approved by the committee would require the Pentagon to rename military bases named after Confederate leaders and bar the use of troops against protesters.

But the bulk of the bill focuses on standard defense issues. The bill would authorize $636.4 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $25.9 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy.

It would also authorize $69 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

The funding would include $9.1 billion to 95 F-35 fighter jets, 14 more than the administration requested.

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It would also include $21.3 billion for shipbuilding, or $1.4 billion more than the administration requested. That would fund seven new battle force ship, which is one fewer than the administration requested because the Senate previously authorized buying an amphibious transport dock ship.

The bill would also authorize a 3 percent pay raise for troops, in line with the administration’s request.

As Inhofe and the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police When 'Buy American' and common sense collide MORE (R.I.), previewed, this year’s NDAA would also create a Pacific Deterrence Initiative aimed at countering China. The bill would put an initial $1.4 billion into the fund in fiscal 2021 and authorize another $5.5 billion for fiscal 2022.

The bill, consideration of which was complicated this year by the coronavirus pandemic, also has several measures to address the health crisis.

It would authorize $44 million for vaccine and biotechnology research supported by the Pentagon. It would also provide reserve retirement relief for service members affected by the stop-movement order the Pentagon issued because of the pandemic. Additionally, it would authorize a transitional health benefit for National Guardsmen who were called up to help with the pandemic response but are not covered by the Title 32 designation in which the federal government paid for the deployment.

It would also require the Pentagon to brief lawmakers on the effect of nonessential training reductions on the morale and readiness of military personnel.

The committee said this year’s end strength numbers were also set with the effects of the pandemic on recruitment and basic training capacity in mind. This year’s NDAA would authorize 485,000 active-duty soldiers, 346,730 active-duty sailors, 180,000 active-duty Marines and 333,475 active-duty airmen.