Updated at 12:08 p.m.
WASHINGTON — The US House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve the 2016 defense policy bill that complies with the terms of the overarching budget deal between the president and congressional leadership, teeing up a vote in the Senate next week.
This is the second time around for this 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, whose provisions authorize spending on a wide range of acquisition programs across the services, overhaul the military retirement system and reauthorize a host of military pays and benefits. The bill also includes significant provisions aimed at reforming acquisitions.
Thursday's House vote tallied 370-58 – netting significantly more Democrats than the last time. Many Democrats voted against the previous version, and President Obama vetoed it because it inflated Pentagon funding via the overseas contingency operations (OCO) wartime account to skirt budget caps but refused to include an equal increase domestic spending.
House Armed Services Chairman Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry and Republicans speaking in support of the measure invoked the upcoming Veteran’s Day holiday and called on colleagues of both parties to send a signal of support to US service members around the globe, as well as allies and adversaries. Many of the Republicans who spoke in favor of the bill on the floor were veterans.
“The rest of the world also needs to see that sort of support because there are an increasing number of questions about whether the United States is in retreat, about whether we are willing to continue to engage in world leadership,” Thornberry said. “One of the ways we can demonstrate to adversaries, to friends, to neutrals that we are committed to ourselves and our allies is pass this bill for the 54th straight year.”
The new bill preserves the last version's policy provisions but was reduced by $5 billion to $607 billion to comply with the budget deal negotiated between congressional leaders and the president. The larger budget pact would raise caps on defense spending by about $25 billion for each of the next two fiscal years, to $548 billion in fiscal 2016 and $551 billion in fiscal 2017.
Crucially for Democrats — who sought a budget deal with Republicans that increases non-defense and defense spending equally — non-defense spending caps would be upped by $25 billion in fiscal 2016 and $15 billion in 2016, and another nearly $15 billion would be added in non-military costs to the temporary war-funding accounts each of the next two years.
HASC's ranking member, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said before voting for the bill that the rejection of the earlier version — which did not address budget caps — was actually supportive of defense. Smith said the maneuvering was meant to deliver a bill that makes for less turbulence for the Defense Department.
“Until we finally get rid of the budget caps and get a more predictable at least five if not 10 years, national security will be at risk,” Smith said. “Now its great that we’ve got two years, it’s great that we’ve got this one bill, but as many in the Department of Defense have mentioned … the last five years have been terrible for defense – unpredictability, threatened shutdowns, actual shutdowns, budget caps.”
House Republican leaders had announced Tuesday they would drop plans for a veto override vote.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has said he expects quick passage of the measure in the Senate.