House of Rep. approves $696B bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed a massive annual defense bill on Friday, far exceeding President Trump’s budget request.

The vote was 344-81 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes up to $696 billion in spending for the Department of Defense and lays out military policy.

The NDAA authorizes $621.5 billion in the base defense budget and $75 billion in a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, with $10 billion in OCO dollars to pay for base budget needs.

The bill exceeds Trump’s budget request by nearly $28.5 billion, but roughly $8.5 billion under what committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) initially proposed to put in the bill.

The NDAA will likely face some hurdles because it would increase military spending beyond last year’s $619 billion bill, which defies caps on government spending imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). The act states the Pentagon base budget should not exceed $549 billion.

In order to move forward, lawmakers will need to decide whether to repeal BCA or lift the budget caps.

Trump has not threatened to veto the House NDAA yet but has expressed some issues with multiple provisions in this bill.

Some of the provisions targeted by the administration include those that aim to prevent a new round of base closures, establish a new branch of the military dedicated to space, limit an arms treaty with Russia, require congressional notification of cyber operations and prevent recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea.

The White House issued the following statement earlier this week:
“The administration is in the midst of conducting several strategic reviews that affect multiple provisions in this bill, such as those addressing space organization and management and naval ship force structure. Once these reviews are complete, the administration will be prepared to suggest modifications to these provisions.”

Another issue with the bill was separating $10 billion in OCO funding to contribute to the base budget.

“The bill also proposes using OCO to fund additional end strength, ships, and homeland defense,” the statement said. “Funding these enduring requirements in OCO would complicate the funding stability for associated out-year costs and runs contrary to the purpose of OCO.”

A number of controversial amendments were also excluded from the bill, including an amendment that would have ended the Pentagon’s policy of providing gender-reassignment surgery for active-duty transgender service members, excluding mental health services.

However, the NDAA does include a provision to create a Space Corps, a new military branch under the Air Force, that aims to protect U.S. interests in space.

Thornberry addressed the controversial Space Corps topic, saying: “I know that there are those in the Department of Defense who may not think it’s the best idea in the world. But … if you look back in history it is incumbent upon Congress to make changes in the Pentagon that they cannot make for themselves.”

The bill is currently set to go to the Senate and is expected to take up the legislation later this month.

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