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Congress Approved $717 Billion Budget Package Pending


U.S. soldiers exit a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during air assault mission practice with German soldiers during a training exercise at Vaziani Air Strip in Georgia on July 30, 2018. On Wednesday, the Senate finalized the annual defense authorization bill, which includes a pay raise for troops in 2019 and more money for equipment like Army helicopters.

Senators gave final approval on the annual defense authorization bill on Wednesday, sending the $717 billion budget package to the White House before becoming law within the next few weeks.

The decision marks the 58th consecutive year Congress has approved the military spending policy measure and also the earliest that lawmakers have finished the task in 41 years. Typically, lawmakers labor until late fall before reaching agreement around the legislation.

It sets the military pay raise at 2.6 percent starting next January, adds 15,600 more troops to services’ overall end strength, and boosts aircraft and ship purchases above what the White House had requested.

It also gives lawmakers a good legislative victory to tout before voters inside the lead-up on the November mid-term elections, and a few parliamentary breathing room they hope can bring about progress on appropriations bills over the following couple of weeks.

A day earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced which he had reached a legal contract with Senate Democrats on bringing defense appropriations legislation on the Senate floor later this month, in a broader effort to wrap up fiscal 2019 military spending issues before the election.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. along with the second-ranking lawmaker on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the authorization measure “arguably the most significant bill we’ll have this season.”

The Senate vote, 87 to 10, comes just one week after House members similarly approved the measure by an overwhelming margin.

White House officials have voiced displeasure with sections of the huge military policy measure but they are supposed to sign it into law later this month.

The conference negotiations for the 1,800-plus-page bill largely steered clear of controversy, dropping several proposed office shuffling and executive branch limitations for a much more palatable final measure.

Legislation may delay delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey amid political concerns with leadership there. It also bars Chinese telecom firms ZTE and Hauwei (and firms who use them) from engaging with the U.S. government, a proposal that disagrees administration overtures to China.

In maintaining a bipartisan budget deal reached inside spring, the authorization bill requires a base defense budget of $639 billion with an overseas contingency operations funding total of one other $69 billion.

The spending authority includes $40.8 billion to “overcome the crisis in military aviation” by ordering more equipment, $17.7 billion to rehabilitate worn-out Army equipment, and $23.5 billion to upgrade and repair “crumbling military buildings and also other infrastructure.”

The 2.6 percent pay raise falls depending on the expected boost in civilian wages in 2019, but is the largest to the military in a decade. The end strength increase, 7,000 that is inside Army, employs boosts in troop numbers totaling more than 25,000 throughout the last two years.

Lawmakers included authorization for 77 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 15 KC-46 Pegasus aircraft and $129 million extra for C-130 aircraft engine upgrades. The measure would also allow the Air Force to kill its JSTARS recapitalization program but does restrict retirement of the legacy E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System until an alternative is found.

It authorizes a fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, three Littoral Combat Ships and six polar icebreakers. The Army National Guard would get six new attack helicopters to pay existing shortfalls.

The compromise measure also includes an overhaul with the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, to allow for more flexible promotion schedules and more expansive recruiting and retention tools for service leaders.

The White House’s controversial intends to build new submarine-launched low-yield, nuclear weapons were approved by lawmakers, but Congress included essential that lawmakers approve plans to develop or modify nuclear warheads inside future.

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