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Senate unveils $700B defense authorization plan

June 28, 2017 (Photo Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP)
WASHINGTON — Senate lawmakers introduced a $700 billion defense authorization bill on Wednesday that sets the stage for another financial showdown with House budget planners and White House officials over the right target for national defense planning.

The Senate draft calls for more base defense spending than either of the other plans, fewer troops and a smaller military pay raise than the House proposal, but 54 more aircraft and five more naval ships than the president had planned.

In a statement, Senate Armed Services Committee officials said the moves are “necessary to help the U.S. military restore readiness, rebuild capacity, and modernize the force for future challenges.” Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said the plan will “start the process of rebuilding our military after six years of devastating cuts to our defense budget.”

Like the other spending proposals, the Senate plan hinges on finding a compromise fix for spending caps mandated by Congress for fiscal 2018, which has proven elusive for lawmakers in recent years.

The cap is set at $549 billion for defense base funding next year. The Senate plan calls for $640 billion in base defense spending, well above the $621 billion in the House plan and $603 billion outlined by the White House.

Republican defense lawmakers in the House and Senate — along with Pentagon officials — have argued that a sizable increase in military spending is needed in future budgets to help rebuild the services after more than a decade of wartime tempo. Democrats in both chambers have pushed for non-defense spending increases to accompany any military build-up, prompting the impasse.

The Senate plan, which could be considered by the full chamber next month, calls for a 2.1 percent pay raise for troops in January, equal to the White House request but below the anticipated boost in military wages.

House lawmakers are pushing for a 2.4 percent raise, equal to the expected growth in private-sector pay. The difference saves about $200 million that Pentagon planners hope to redirect to training and modernization costs.

Senators are also looking for smaller boosts in end strength than their lower chamber counterparts.

The Senate plan would add 5,000 active-duty soldiers to the president’s request (instead of the 10,000 in the House plan), 1,000 Army Guardsmen and reservists (instead of the House’s 7,000), and 1,000 Marines (instead of 2,700 Air National Guard members and Navy reservists).

Instead, the funding boosts in the Senate authorization plan would go to new equipment. It calls for $3.1 billion more than the White House to buy an extra 24 joint strike fighters, $400 million to buy two more KC-46A tankers, and $1.2 billion extra for 12 more MC-130J aircraft.

The Navy would get $739 million more to buy 10 more F/A-18 Super Hornets and $1 billion more for six extra P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

Like the House, the Senate plan also calls for five more ships than the White House request, another $5 billion boost in the plan’s cost. That includes $1.9 billion extra for a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

The bill authorizes $3 billion for Army helicopters, including $1.4 billion for 74 AH-64E Apaches, $1.1 billion for 84 UH-60 Black Hawks, $203 million for six CH-47F Chinooks, $247 million for four MH-47G Chinooks, and $108 million for 13 Light Utility Helicopters. 

The Army would also get $2.2 billion for ground combat vehicles. That includes $1.3 billion for M1 Abrams tanks, $793 million for Stryker armored combat vehicles, $111 million for Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and $41 million for Ground Mobility Vehicles.

The proposal also includes several moves to reduce bureaucracy at the Pentagon. Senators are mandating a reduction in the number of deputy assistant secretaries of defense by 20 percent, a reduction in senior executive service personnel in the Defense Department by 10 percent, and the removal of at least one assistant secretary from each military department.

House Armed Services Committee members were expected to advance their authorization bill to the full House late Wednesday night. Leaders in both chambers are hopeful they can pass versions of the measure by the end of July so congressional negotiators can begin the world of reconciling the measures over the extended August recess.  

 
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.
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