The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $700 billion defense policy bill that violates a 2018 budget cap by authorizing military spending on additional ships, aircraft, and troops.
The 356-70 vote sends the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass and be sent to President Trump for his signature, even though there is no clear plan in Congress on how to fund the annual bill.
Lawmakers in both chambers have rallied around the authorization of $634.2 billion in total base defense spending, and say it's needed to rebuild a military that is overburdened and underfunded.
“It is morally wrong to send men and women out on missions with our military for which they are not fully supported, fully trained, equipped with the best equipment our country can provide,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the Armed Services chairman. “It’s wrong for us to do it and that’s exactly what’s been happening.”
But Democrats warned the desired $634.2 billion will not materialize unless Congress reaches a compromise to lift the $549 billion cap for 2018 set in federal law. The NDAA authorizes spending but does not appropriate the money, although its proposed $65.7 billion for overseas military operations is exempt from statutory caps.
“The increased spending included in this bill are hollow numbers and we are failing to deliver a credible or sensible long-term plan to the Defense Department,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., the ranking member on the Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee.
The current stopgap budget measure that is funding the military and federal government is set to expire Dec. 8, and Congress must write and pass annual appropriations legislation to fund the NDAA priorities by then. Otherwise, the military could be handed another stopgap continuing resolution and be stuck with its existing funding.
The NDAA bill authorizes more hardware and troops than requested by Trump, including 90 Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighters, 24 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets and 14 new Navy ships, including three littoral combat ships built by Lockheed Martin and Austal USA.
“I’m proud to say this bill sends the signal to our Navy, the industrial base and our adversaries that a 355-ship Navy is not just a theoretically idea but rather an achievable reality,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., the chairman of the Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee who has been pushing to increase the size of the current 278-ship fleet.
The Army would get 8,500 more soldiers even though the president’s budget request called for no change. The other services are also set for increases to their active and reserve troops: 5,000 for the Navy, 5,800 for the Air Force, and 1,000 for the Marine Corps.
The bill authorizes $12.3 billion for missile defense, including a $4 billion supplemental request from the Trump administration, to counter growing threats from North Korea.
It allows the purchase of more ground-based interceptors that could protect the U.S., more Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems, and Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missiles.
“The bill ensures that we stay ahead of the threat, which as we’ve seen over the last few years from North Korea and their two dozen missile tests they are advancing rapidly,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the chairman of the Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.