One amendment included in a US House Pentagon policy bill would require the president to sell F-16 C/D fighter aircraft to Taiwan. (SAM YEH/AFP)
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WASHINGTON — The US House moved closer Wednesday evening to completing work on its 2015 Pentagon policy bill, rubber-stamping a list of amendments including ones to require F-16 sales to Taiwan and clarifying war-budgeting rules.
After a sluggish start on the chamber floor, the House used the prime time hours to quickly approve 114 amendments to its 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), most without serious debate. None dramatically overhauled the legislation, but several mandated arms sales or altered defense budgeting and other policies.
The lower chamber is expected to finish the legislation without any turbulence on Thursday, with only several outstanding votes on individual amendments and one bloc of amendments left to complete. Once the House has done its work, the bill would authorize $495.8 billion for the base Pentagon budget and $79.4 billion more for the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget.
Among the amendments cleared Wednesday, mostly in blocs, was a bipartisan one that would require the president to sell Lockheed Martin-made F-16 C/D fighter aircraft “to Taiwan to modernize its air fleet, 70 percent of which is scheduled to be retired within the next decade,” according to a House-issued summary.
The chamber also approved an amendment from Rep. John Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., which would “[codify] criteria developed by [the White House Office of Management and Budget] in 2010 to clarify when military spending should be designated as contingency operations and properly be part of the Overseas Contingency Operation budget,” according to a summary.
The chamber also approved an amendment from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that would add $99 million for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program. A House aide said the Franks amendment would replace nine of 100 Standard Missiles previously cut by the Obama administration due exclusively to budgetary constraints.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., won approval for another amendment that would prohibit the establishment of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan, while Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, got one passed that requires a report on efforts to defeat al-Qaida.
The chamber also approved an amendment pushed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., that would establish “a U.S. policy of opposing transfers of ‘defense articles and services’ ... to Russia by any NATO member country, during any period when Russia occupies the territory of Ukraine or a NATO member country.”
With the lower chamber nearly finished with its 2015 NDAA, attention soon will shift across the Capitol complex. The Senate Armed Services Committee is working behind closed doors on its version of the bill; the full chamber likely will not take up the bill until the fall.
A House-Senate conference committee would then hammer out the differences and craft a final version.
Among the amendments due to get a vote on Thursday:
The chamber is expected to approve a bipartisan amendment that would set up an independent commission to study the Army’s future structure. Specifically, the provision would require the commission to explore: “(1) the necessary size (2) the proper force mixture of the active component and reserve component (3) missions (4) force generation policies, including assumptions behind those policies (5) and how the structure should be modified to best fulfill mission requirements in a manner consistent with available resources,” according to a House summary.
Senate Armed Services Airland subcommittee Chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters Tuesday that the full SASC version of the bill also would mandate an Army structure commission.
Less certain is the fate of an amendment being pushed by a pair of California Democrats, Reps. Adam Schiff and John Garamendi. If included, the amendment would sunset the post-9/11 authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) one year after the final version of the NDAA is signed into law.
Lawmakers in both parties have talked in recent years about rescinding the AUMF or updating it, especially as al-Qaida has been weakened in Pakistan and Afghanistan but gained strength elsewhere. But the White House opposes changes right now, and has in the past pushed hard to quash reform efforts. ■