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US House passes 2017 defense appropriations to uncertain prospects in Senate

March 8, 2017 (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted 371-48 to pass an overdue $578 billion defense spending bill for fiscal 2017 on Wednesday, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Democrats will be unwilling to advance it on its own. 

The $578 billion spending bill passed when most of Capitol Hill was consumed with a politically charged debate over the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's health care law.

Five Republicans and 43 Democrats voted against the measure.

The full version of the House explanatory statement, which includes funding tables, can be found  here.

The bill comes ahead of a full plate of spending issues to be negotiated, including the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget, the Budget Control Act, tax cuts, the debt ceiling and the supplemental defense spending bill. Democrats, who have sought parity for the defense and non-defense sides of the budget, will want to see non-defense proposals.

Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Defense News it would be “irresponsible” to approve defense without knowing the overall approach to the budget.

“I think it’s tied into the all the other appropriations bills,” Reed, of Rhode Island, said of defense appropriations. “It’s just what it would do with the other important bills — important not only to the nation but to national security. What are we going to do with the State Department resources and other areas that have to complement [the Department of Defense]?”

Senate lawmakers are already meeting to advance appropriations beyond defense, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee.

“I don’t think there is support for defense destroying the agreement that Republicans and Democrats made,” said Leahy, of Vermont.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The current stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government runs out on April 28, and to avert a government shutdown Congress would have to pass appropriations or another extension.

Under the continuing resolution, the DoD has been operating at 2016 funding, which meant new-start procurement programs are on hold.

The bill hews to the top-line of the conference report for the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House and Senate, and signed by Obama late last year. Tha should discourage Senate Democrats from blocking it, said Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

"I think to get the other stuff, this is a necessary first step, and it's at the levels we agreed to in the authorizing bill," said Smith, of Washington state.

The bill that passed the House on Wednesday contains $516.1 billion in the base budget and $61.8 billion for the wartime overseas contingency operations account — a rough match to the 2017 defense policy bill Obama signed late last year. 

Ahead of the vote, House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, cast the bill as an important first step toward rebuilding the military after years of underfunding and budget caps under Obama.

"I've spent a lot of time talking to senior defense leaders to find out what they need to combat [global] threats," Granger said. "They have unanimously stated that the only thing our adversaries respect is strength, and they need this bill passed to ensure our military is as strong and effective as possible."

Democrats sought to portray the long-delayed 2017 appropriations process a failure, as there are 10 other bills with what ranking member of the HAC-D, Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., called “an uncertain path.”

"All Americans know we must ensure our armed forces are staffed, trained and equipped to meet the challenges they face. We must fulfill that responsibility without neglecting the critical services and investments funded through the 10 other unfinished appropriations bills," said House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. 

"I'm very concerned that the House Republican leadership is proposing to move one bill forward without any indication that the other 10 will see the light of day," Lowey said. 

In the bill, lawmakers boosted funding for the F-35 fighter jet by $1.2 billion for 11 more aircraft for a total buy of 74; the F/A-18E/F fighter jet procurement by $979 million for 12 more aircraft; and by $1.6 billion for an additional amphibious ship, according to a Cowen and Company analysis.

The bill also provides for an increase in military end strength, halting the Obama administration’s planned troop cuts.  

Email:  jgould@defensenews.com              

Twitter:  @reporterjoe    
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