OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House passes $585B defense bill

THE TOPLINE: The House on Thursday passed a $585 billion defense authorization bill to equip the Pentagon with funding and programs for fiscal 2015. 

The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 300-119, and now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved next week before Congress leaves for the year. 

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There were 194 Republican and 106 Democratic votes for the bill, with 32 Republicans and 87 Democrats voting against. To see who voted for the bill, click here.

The measure is one of the few pieces of legislation that has always been renewed on time, with Congress passing it for 52 consecutive years.

This year's negotiated bill was named after the retiring chairmen of the armed services committees: Rep. Buck McKeonHoward (Buck) Philip McKeonBottom line Republican fighter pilot to challenge freshman Dem in key California race Overnight Defense: Pompeo certifies military aid for Saudi coalition in Yemen | Trump authorizes sanctions on election meddlers | Taliban set for new talks with US MORE (R-Calif.) and Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinListen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race MORE (D-Mich.). 

It authorizes $521 billion in base discretionary spending for Defense Department activities, as well as $64 billion for overseas contingency operations.

One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is its inclusion of a variety of public land and energy provisions, including designating new national parks and wilderness areas, speeding the permit process for oil and gas drilling, and measures related to energy and minerals.

The bill also reduces benefits for troops and their families. It would raise the copay by $3 for most pharmaceuticals under Tricare, the military health insurance plan. 

It would also keep pay raises at 1 percent, freeze raises for general and flag officers, and reduce housing subsidies by 1 percent. The bill also cuts subsidies for military commissaries, where troops buy groceries, by $100 million. 

Although the cuts did not go as far as the Pentagon and Senate Armed Services Committee wanted, they are a blow to advocates for military families who lobbied hard against any cuts. 

The bill also sought a compromise on some platforms, such as the A-10 aircraft, which the Pentagon is seeking to retire despite strong support from lawmakers who oppose its grounding. 

The bill approves several important White House initiatives in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), including extending authority to the president for a plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. 

In addition, the measure authorizes $5.6 billion for operations against ISIS, including the deployment of 1,500 more U.S. forces and for training and equipping Iraqi security forces for two years. 

Before the bill passed, McKeon delivered an emotional farewell speech to the House chamber as he thanked his family and staff.

"To this great body and to our troops, wherever you may be, may God bless you and keep you," McKeon said. "And now, for hopefully the last time, I yield back the balance of my time."

To see the bill text, click here.

 

CONGRESS REACTS TO DEFENSE BILL: 

Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson (R-Pa.): "Reducing pay and benefits for our active duty soldiers and their families, without instituting broader reforms to reduce waste, fraud and abuse is not something I can support."

Rep. Rob Wittmann (R-Va.): "The passage of today's bill was absolutely necessary for protecting our national security and ensuring our military is resourced to accomplish its missions. However, I am adamantly opposed to provisions which increase pharmacy copays and reduce the basic housing allowance."

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.): "While this bill is not perfect, overall it provides our men and women in uniform with the tools and resources they need to maintain national security. It also provides the members of our Armed Services and their families with the benefits and support that they have earned through their service."

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.): "This will improve our military's readiness efforts and protect our promises to service members and their families."

Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.): "Although a complete change will not happen overnight, this year’s NDAA is another step towards eradicating military sexual assault.”

Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.): “The A-10 is protected for another year because of our actions and the fight our community put up."

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio): "I was proud to author and successfully fight for the inclusion of these provisions in the FY 2015 NDAA that take direct action to counter increasing Russian aggression, enhance security and stability in Europe, and limit military cooperation between the United States and Russia."

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.): "This bill takes significant steps towards restoring a favorable military balance in the Asia-Pacific and strengthens cooperation with allies and partners in the region."

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.): "The legislation aids our ongoing pivot to Asia and makes critical investments in America's Navy. As our nation faces 21st century threats, this bill also maximizes our cyber capabilities to boost defense and jobs."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.): "Before he leaves office, Secretary Hagel has a chance to provide an important measure of solace to the families and fellow sailors of those lost on the U.S.S. Frank E. Evans and put the names of the Lost 74 on the Vietnam Memorial Wall."

ISIS AUTHORIZATION NEXT WEEK? The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday decided it will try to draw up legislation authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) next week.

Under a deal worked out between the panel’s leaders, Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.) and ranking member Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment Jeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump MORE (R-Tenn.), the committee will convene a hearing next Monday featuring Secretary of State John Kerry or “whatever appropriate administration officials” are available to begin the process.

That session would be followed a closed-door briefing on Tuesday. A full committee markup on an authorization on the use of military force (AUMF) would be held Wednesday, according to Menendez.

The timeline was worked out during an often heated meeting in which Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) planned to offer his proposal to formally declare war against the terror group as an amendment to a water bill.

“Debate and talks are good, but votes are what count around here,” Paul said before agreeing to table his proposal.

After the meeting, Paul said he was unsure whether he had the votes to pass his declaration of war out of committee but predicted some authorization “would happen.”

Menendez, too said he was “doubtful” any eventual measure would receive a full Senate vote.

He said he would urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to do so, but “whether he can get concurrence” from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is “another question.”

PENTAGON NOMINEE COMING FRIDAY. President Obama will formally announce his nominee for Defense secretary at a White House event on Friday.

The president is widely expected to tap former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to run the Pentagon.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday declined to confirm several reports that Carter is the president’s choice, stressing it was Obama's announcement to make.

Carter has been considered a leading candidate for the post since Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Senators plan 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sale | Trump defends transgender military plan | Trump, lawmakers prep to mark D-Day anniversary The Hill's Morning Report - Mueller finally speaks. What now? Swalwell says he will convene a bipartisan 'blended cabinet' if elected president MORE announced last week that he would resign. 

Other potential nominees – including former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson – all quickly withdrew their names from consideration for the position.

DOD CITES PROGRESS AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT: The Pentagon said Thursday that an 8 percent bump last year in U.S. troops reporting sexual assault is a sign of increasing comfort among service members on coming forward about crimes.

"We believe that our efforts to prevent sexual assault are beginning to have an impact," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. The department had undergone a year-long review to address the problem after a slew of high-profile cases.

Hagel said the review showed that the prevalence of sexual assault has decreased by 25 percent over the last year.

But, he added, "we still have a long way to go."

The 8 percent increase in reporting pales in comparison to a 50 percent increase between 2012 and 2013 — a statistic that fueled lawmakers' claims the military is not doing enough to address the issue.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said fewer than three out of 10 troops trust the military justice system enough to report an assault.

In addition, two-thirds of those who have reported a crime say they've been retaliated against, said Gillibrand, who is seeking to take authority over the cases away from commanders.

“And let me be clear, an estimate of 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact a year in our military, or 55 cases a day, is appalling, and remains at 2010 levels," she said.

However, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has also pushed for reform, cheered the Pentagon's announcement.

"Reporting of assaults being up and incidents of assault being down are exactly the combination we're looking for," she said Wednesday.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

- US confirms failed hostage rescue in Yemen

- Navy rescinds Cosby’s honorary title

- McKeon gets emotional in farewell speech

- Retiring House Intelligence chairman gives farewell speech

- McCain rejects ISIS vote during lame duck

 

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