House approves $578 billion to keep armed forces operating

House approves $578 billion to keep armed forces operating

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House voted decisively Wednesday to approve a $578 billion spending bill that keeps the U.S. armed forces operating through September and sets the stage for substantial increases to the Pentagon's budget advocated by President Donald Trump.

The fiscal year 2017 defense legislation passed the GOP-led chamber by a wide margin, 371-48, clearing the way for the Senate to act. The Trump administration is preparing a $30 billion supplement to the bill, which serves as a down payment on the president's promise to repair what he and other Republicans have described as a military "depleted" by the Obama administration's refusal to spend enough money.

The United States spends more on defense than the next seven nations combined. Yet GOP defense hawks are pressing Trump to spend tens of billions more on defense than he's envisioned for the next budget year.

The 2017 defense legislation, crafted by House and Senate negotiators from both parties, tracks the funding levels for Pentagon procurement, operation and maintenance, and research and development programs authorized by the annual defense policy bill that former President Barack Obama signed into law in December.

The spending bill has $516 billion for basic military requirements, which covers everything from the purchase of bombs and bullets to troop training. Nearly $62 billion is included in the bill to pay for ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said passage of the 2017 bill returns badly needed financial stability to the armed forces.

The Pentagon and other federal agencies are currently running under a stopgap spending bill that expires April 28. Congress approved the temporary measure to avoid a government shutdown late last year, triggered by persistent bickering among Republicans and Democrats over spending levels for the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

Senior U.S. military commanders have decried the frequent use of stopgap spending bills, which are known as continuing resolutions. Under these short-term agreements, the Pentagon's budget is set at the previous year's level and the military services are barred from starting new programs.

The lack of steady funding has led the services to borrow money from their procurement and training accounts to pay for ongoing military operations. That's prevented them from being able to buy new equipment and adequately prepare troops for combat.

"Continuing resolutions are bad for our troops," said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a retired Air Force fighter pilot. "We are in a military readiness crisis like I have not seen in my lifetime."

The spending bill also provides $980 million to train and equip foreign forces to combat the Islamic State group.

Another $150 million is allotted in the bill to supply Ukraine with lethal and nonlethal aid to counter Russian aggression. Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its incursions into eastern Ukraine have drawn widespread condemnation in Europe and the United States along with a raft of economic penalties.

There's also $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative, another program aimed at countering Russian threats.

For the 2018 budget year, which begins Oct. 1, Trump has previewed a base defense budget for 2018 that is $54 billion above the spending caps mandated by a rule known in Washington-speak as sequestration.

But 33 Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee want him to add at least another $37 billion, for a total increase next year of $91 billion beyond the caps. In a letter to the House Budget Committee released Wednesday, the lawmakers said that's the amount needed to begin reversing the erosion of the military's combat readiness.

Trump's envisioned level, they wrote, "would unintentionally lock in a slow fix to readiness, consistent with the Obama administration's previous position, from which we would not be able to dig out."


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