Defense

House panel approves $740.5B defense policy bill

The House Armed Services Committee has unanimously approved its version of a mammoth defense policy bill.

The committee voted 56-0 to approve the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after a nearly 14-hour markup.

The approval marks a milestone in a process complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. The markup was pushed back from its originally scheduled date at the end of April, and when it was held, it was in a larger room than usual, with mostly masked members sitting at separate tables and some participating virtually.

During Wednesday's consideration of the bill, the panel approved several amendments on hot-button issues, including requiring the Pentagon to rename bases and other property with Confederate monikers within a year. 

The committee vote came after President Trump threatened to veto the NDAA if it includes a requirement to rename bases.

Including the requirement in the House bill significantly increases the odds it gets to Trump's desk. The Senate has in its version of the bill a requirement to rename property within three years, and it is difficult to remove language during bicameral negotiations over a bill if there are similar provisions in both versions.

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday also approved an amendment to ban the Confederate battle flag from all Pentagon property.

Meanwhile, the panel voted down an amendment to change the Insurrection Act that President Trump threatened to invoke amid the height of racial justice protests last month.

Another amendment the panel approved seeks to constrain Trump's ability to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany by requiring a series of certifications and reports before he is allowed to.

The committee also approved an amendment to require the administration to make several certifications to Congress before further drawing down in Afghanistan, including providing information about whether any country has offered incentives for the Taliban to attack U.S. and coalition troops.

That amendment was approved amid the firestorm in Washington over intelligence showing a Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

The underlying bill approved by the committee also seeks to put up roadblocks to potential troop withdrawals in Africa and South Korea.

The bill would also create a $1 billion fund for the Pentagon's pandemic preparedness as the country continues to struggle with the coronavirus crisis.

It would also establish a $3.6 billion fund to deter China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, one of the main fights in last year's NDAA - blocking the use of Pentagon funding on Trump's border wall - is dealt with in a less direct way this year.

Last year's House-passed NDAA would have restricted the ability to transfer money between accounts, as well as created a blanket ban on using Pentagon funds for the wall. But those provisions were taken out of the bill during negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate, and the NDAA that was signed into law in December did not address the wall.

This year's NDAA, by contrast, would create caps on emergency use of military construction funding, setting them at $100 million for domestic projects and $500 million for overseas projects. To date Trump has taken $3.6 billion from military construction funding for the wall.

In a nod to ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry's (R-Texas) retirement from Congress at the end of this term, the committee also voted in one of it last moves of the night to officially name this year's bill the "William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021."

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