This article was updated to include comment from Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

WASHINGTON — The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Defense approved a 2017 defense spending bill Tuesday that includes $515.9 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget funding and $58.6 billion in the war budget.

The bill's funding levels are consistent with the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, falls below the president's budget request by about $1.7 billion and rejects the House approach of reallocating wartime funds for base budget needs.

"This is a bipartisan bill that responsibly funds national defense and shows strong commitment to those who serve in the Armed Forces," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who also leads the subcommittee.

Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat and ranking member of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee, jabbed the House’s approach as well as Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain’s plans to seek an added $17 billion for defense, possibly in wartime overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding.

"There are other committees that go unnamed that are in a battle over this, and we may resolve some of that on the floor, possibly, but I thought your approach was fair, direct, conservative, very constructive," Durbin told Cochran. "It's remarkable that we achieve as much as we can without resorting to gimmicks, and arbitrarily cutting off military operations before the next president takes office."

The House plan would cut off wartime funding in April to goad the next president to request a supplemental defense spending bill.

The full committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, said a key principle for Democrats is that the bill fully funds counter-Islamic State group efforts and "doesn't include a reckless, irresponsible and arbitrary cut-off of funding for our troops serving in harm's way in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere."

Outside the hearing room, Mikulski told Defense News that McCain's amendment would contravene the hard-fought 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act — and that any defense hike must be matched on the nondefense side of the federal budget.

"We have the budget act and we're supposed to live by the budget act, and the budget act is not only for appropriations but every bill within the United States Senate, so that's one thing," Mikulski said. "If he wants to go outside of it by going to [more] OCO, there has to be additional parity for Democrats."

It remained a mystery Tuesday whether McCain would seek the additional funding in OCO dollars, which are exempt from statutory budget caps, or base budget dollars.

"Were still going back and forth on that, and I'm not sure which will be the most effective," McCain said. "Anything we do busts the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, when you add $18 billion."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the SASC who frequently teams with McCain, said he thinks OCO is the better path, in spite of Congress' tendency to "use and sometimes abuse" the account, originally meant as an emergency fund, not for reoccurring expenses.

"The necessity is becoming more dire, this is getting to be an emergency, and this is the only vehicle I know to have this debate and vote," said Graham, R-S.C. "The perfect solution is we need to increase defense spending at time of great threat. Unfortunately we can't get there."

The subpanel Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee recommends more than 450 specific budget cuts totaling $15.1 billion and reallocates that money to buy items on the services’ "unfunded priorities" lists, according to a committee fact sheet. The bill increases funding for readiness and operation and maintenance accounts, plus shipbuilding and aircraft procurement.

On top of the president's budget request, the bill would add $2 billion for shipbuilding and three ships, $2.5 billion for aircraft procurement across the Defense Department, and $1 billion to accelerate production of a polar icebreaker.

The bill would include funding for $20.5 billion for Navy shipbuilding programs, and would fund the construction of 10 new ships: two Virginia-class submarines, three DDG-51 destroyers, three littoral combat ships, one LHA amphibious assault ship and one polar icebreaker, according to the fact sheet. The bill also fully funds advance procurement activities for the Ohio replacement submarine and aircraft carrier replacement programs.

For aircraft procurement, the bill adds the following, above the president's budget:

  • $979 million for 12 F-18 aircraft (Navy).
  • $507 million for two F-35 carrier variant and two F-35 vertical takeoff Joint Strike Fighters (Marine Corps).
  • $367 million for 15 Blackhawk helicopters (Army National Guard).
  • $187 million for 28 Lakota helicopters (Army).
  • $160 million for two C-130J aircraft (Air Force).
  • $150 million for two MV-22 helicopters (Marine Corps).
  • $103 million for Compass Call aircraft replacement (Air Force).
  • $75 million for UH-1N replacement helicopters (Air Force).

The bill also provides an additional $100 million for Air Force F-35 advance procurement to restore planned reductions in fiscal 2018, and an added $300 million for Marine Corps aviation spares and repair parts to address maintenance and readiness issues.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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