House ap­proves $700B for de­fense

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Richard Lard­ner

House Repub­li­cans and Democrats joined forces Tues­day to de­ci­sively ap­prove a de­fense pol­icy bill that au­tho­rizes $700 bil­lion to re­stock what law­mak­ers have de­scribed as a de­pleted U.S. mil­i­tary and counter North Korea’s ad­vanc­ing nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Law­mak­ers voted 356-70 to pass the leg­is­la­tion, with 127 Democrats back­ing the mea­sure. Once the de­fense bill clears the Se­nate, which is ex­pected this week, the bill will be sent to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for his sig­na­ture.

The de­fense bill for the 2018 fis­cal year al­lots some $634 bil­lion for core Pen­tagon oper­a­tions and nearly $66 bil­lion for wartime mis­sions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and else­where. The fund­ing boost pays for more troops, jet fight­ers, ships and other weapons needed to halt an ero­sion of the mil­i­tary’s com­bat readi­ness, ac­cord­ing to the bill’s back­ers.

Trump’s 2018 re­quest sought $603 bil­lion for ba­sic func­tions and $65 bil­lion for over­seas mis­sions. But se­cur­ing the higher amounts re­mains con­tin­gent upon Congress reach­ing an agree­ment to roll back a 2011 law that set strict lim­its on most fed­eral spend­ing. That’s a lot harder than it sounds, how­ever. Lift­ing the bud­get caps will face re­sis­tance from Democrats who also are seek­ing to in­crease the bud­gets for do­mes­tic agen­cies.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Demo­crat on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, voted for the bill while also crit­i­ciz­ing Congress for re­fus­ing to come to grips with its out-of­con­trol ap­proach to bud­get­ing. Smith said it’s in­con­sis­tent for Repub­li­cans to push for bil­lions of dol­lars more in de­fense spend­ing while also ad­vo­cat­ing tax over­haul leg­is­la­tion that will deepen fed­eral deficits over the next decade.

Even if Congress had a “fit of fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity” and de­cided to raise rev­enue in­stead of cut­ting it, Smith said, “we’re still look­ing at needs within the na­tional se­cu­rity bud­get ... that are wildly be­yond the amount of money that we have.”

Repub­li­cans in­sist tax cuts will es­sen­tially pay for them­selves by spurring eco­nomic growth. But

the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man, Rep. Mac Thorn­berry, R-Texas, urged his col­leagues to fo­cus on the mil­i­tary’s im­me­di­ate and sub­stan­tial needs.

“It is morally wrong to send men and women out on mis­sions with our mil­i­tary, for which they are not fully sup­ported, fully trained, (and) equipped with the best equip­ment our coun­try can pro­vide,”

he said.

The de­fense leg­is­la­tion in­cludes $12.3 bil­lion for the Pen­tagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency and or­ders a more rapid buildup of the na­tion’s mis­sile de­fenses as Py­ongyang has re­fused to back away from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear mis­siles ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the United States.

The bill in­cludes money for as many as 28 ad­di­tional Ground-Based In­ter­cep­tors, which are an­timis­sile mis­siles that would be launched from un­der­ground si­los in Alaska in the event the U.S. de­cided to

try to shoot down a North Korean mis­sile head­ing to­ward the United States. The in­ter­cep­tors are de­signed to di­rectly hit the en­emy mis­sile out­side the Earth’s at­mos­phere, oblit­er­at­ing it by the force of im­pact.

Law­mak­ers also have re­quired De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis to de­velop a plan for in­creas­ing the over­all num­ber of so-called GBIs from 44 to 104. The bill also di­rects the Pen­tagon to pro­cure more ship­based in­ter­cep­tors and mis­siles for the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense, or

THAAD, a U.S. mo­bile an­timis­sile sys­tem.

North Korea’s U.N. am­bas­sador, Ja Song Nam, said in a let­ter Mon­day to Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Antonio Gut­teres that the un­prece­dented de­ploy­ment of three U.S. air­craft car­rier groups “tak­ing up a strike pos­ture” around the Korean penin­sula has made it im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict when nu­clear war will break out. The car­ri­ers are par­tic­i­pat­ing in joint naval ex­er­cises with North Korea.

“The large-scale nu­clear war ex­er­cises and black­mails, which the U.S. staged

for a whole year with­out a break in col­lab­o­ra­tion with its fol­low­ers to sti­fle our re­pub­lic, make one con­clude that the op­tion we have taken was the right one and we should go along the way to the last,” Ja’s let­ter reads.

The pol­icy bill also grants U.S. troops a 2.4 per­cent pay raise, which is slightly higher than the wage in­crease the Pen­tagon had pro­posed.

Law­mak­ers also ap­proved an in­crease of more than 20,000 ac­tive-duty and re­serve troops from last year’s level. The Army

gets the largest boost and will re­ceive 7,500 more ac­tive-duty Army sol­diers and 1,000 ad­di­tional re­serve troops.

The de­fense bill pro­vides money for 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fight­ers, 20 more than Trump asked for, as well as 24 F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net jet fight­ers, 10 more than re­quested. The bud­get also in­cludes three Lit­toral Com­bat Ships, two be­yond the bud­get re­quest. The ships are new to the fleet and op­er­ate in con­gested ar­eas near the shore against small boats and mines.

LEE JIN-MAN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. Forces Korea Com­man­der Gen. Vin­cent Brooks, right, speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in front of PAC-3 launch­ing sta­tion at Osan Air Base in Pyeong­taek, South Korea.

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