WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services defense policy bill unveiled its $696.5 billion defense policy bill on Monday, which reflects an emerging deal among House Republican leaders but falls short what pro-defense lawmakers sought.

The committee's draft 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would OK $28.5 billion more than President Trump's defense request but $8.5 billion less than what HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said last week the bill would likely be. The committee plans to begin its markup of the bill on Wednesday.

The HASC proposal is one of several floated on Capitol Hill that blow past the $549 billion budget cap for base defense budgets. That means they all would need Congress to change the law to ease the Budget Control Act — and that requires support from Senate Democrats. House Republicans are seeking $511 billion for non-defense programs, which taken with the defense numbers floating, are likely to trigger a confrontation with Democrats in both chambers.

Bipartisan budget deals have become the norm in recent years. Todd Harrison, a budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he would not read too much into the various defense top-lines because, "they don't mean much without a corresponding agreement with Democrats — particularly Senate Democrats — to raise the BCA budget caps."

"They need 60 votes in the Senate to raise the budget caps, and without that, the base defense budget will be stuck at $549 billion," Harrison said of Republicans. "The real question is what are Republicans willing to give Democrats in the way of non-defense spending to get the increases in defense being proposed?"

The HASC bill's top-line includes $621.5 billion in base-budget dollars and $75 billion in the overseas contingency operations wartime account, or OCO, which is exempt from budget caps. The HASC draft bill hews to the House Budget Committee number.

Thornberry told reporters last week he would move ahead with a $705 billion bill, with $640 billion in base dollars and $65 billion in OCO — but cautioned negotiations were ongoing with the House budget and appropriations committees.

By Friday, reportedly Thornberry forged a deal with the House Budget Committee for the lower number. The deal includes 5 percent increases for the defense budget for each of the next three years, according to sources with knowledge of the deal.

Senior HASC aides speaking with the press on Monday declined to say what was cut from the NDAA to reach the lower top-line.

The House Appropriations Committee is set this week to consider a $658.1 billion defense bill, which contains $584.2 billion in base funding and $73.9 billion in OCO.

The Senate Armed Services Committee's total is reportedly $700 billion, with $640 billion in base funding and $60 billion in OCO.

The HASC proposal unveiled Monday would add 17 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fighter jets above the Trump request for a total of 70; It adds eight Boeing-made Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets for a total of 22, and it adds six P-8A Poseidon aircraft for a total of 13.

For Navy shipbuilding programs, the bill adds one more DDG-51 for a total of three destroyers; it adds two littoral combat ships for a total of three, and it adds an unrequested expeditionary sea base.

For the Army, it adds 17,000 Army troops, and upgrades 29 more Abrams tanks and 33 more Bradley fighting vehicles, among other hardware.

The proposal funds a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops, above the 2.1 percent pay raise Trump requested.

The chairman's mark also shifts the European Deterrence Initiative, previously known as the European Reassurance Initiative, from OCO to the base budget. The bill also requires DoD to provide a four-year plan for the fund.

Email:   jgould@defensenews.com            
Twitter:   @reporterjoe

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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