When Senate lawmakers return this June from Memorial Day recess, they will have to contend with the more than 190 amendments to the 2017 defense authorization bill that have been filed
Of most consequence to the Defense Department and its industrial base is Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) play to increase military spending by more than $17 billion, much of which helps the services acquire new aircraft, ships and modernized vehicles it wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
The current topline for the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act is $602 billion.
McCain’s amendment would inflate the wartime spending account with procurement, military construction and operations and maintenance (O&M) funding that would normally be found in the base budget. Using Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) money allows Senate hawks to circumvent the limits set in the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Agreement.
During a speech at the Brookings Institution last week, the SASC chairman acknowledged he did not know “whether or not this amendment will succeed. But the Senate must have this debate, and senators must choose a side.”
Assistant Minority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the ranking member of the Senate’s appropriations defense subcommittee, said Thursday that Democrats would only vote for the amendment if there was an equal increase for nondefense spending.
SASC’s top Democrat Jack Reed (D-R.I.) has not publicly indicated whether he would support McCain’s amendment.
“Overarching all of this is the arrangement we worked out last year that defense spending and domestic spending would increase at the same rate,” he told reporters Thursday. “That is the other part of the discussion. What do we do to ensure that goal is achieved also?”
Senate authorizers are taking a different approach to the NDAA than their House counterparts, who elected to boost the base budget by shorting OCO by about $18 billion. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has said this approach will allow the next president to decide whether to ask for supplemental funds to continue operations in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere when the money expires in April 2017.
McCain’s amendment included significant funding increases for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, all paid through OCO.
The Army would receive enough money to retain an active duty force of 475,000. The amendment also pays for many items recommended by the National Commission on the Future of the Army.
The service would pick up $1.1 billion for aircraft procurement, including $71 million for advanced procurement of 10 AH-64 Apaches, $110 million for 17 UH-72 Lakotas, $440 million for 3 UH-60M Black Hawks, $191 for five new-build Apaches and $240 million for five remanufactured CH-47 Chinooks.
The amendment increases funds for Army tactical and wheeled vehicles by $245 million. About $172.2 million of that would pay for the modernization of 14 M1 Abrams tanks, and the other $72.8 million would help the service modernize 14 M2 Bradley fighting vehicles. Those platforms would support the European Reassurance Initiative to counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
The Navy and Marine Corps would receive additional aircraft worth $2.5 billion if the amendment is passed. The amendment increases funding for F/A-18E/F Super Hornets by $1.2 billion, allowing the Nayv to purchase 14 more jets. It would also net another two F-35Cs at a cost of $270 million
If the amendment passes, the Marine Corps would stand to get two more AH-1Zs for $57 million, two more F-35Cs for $270 million, two F-35Bs for $269.6 million, two KC-130Js for $158 million and two MV-22s for $150 million.
The amendment also gives shipbuilding a huge $1.8 billion boost, which would pay for three ship-to-shore connectors, incremental funding to finish off procurement of a DDG-51 and a third Littoral Combat Ship. It also adds $22 million for the Landing Craft Unit (LCU) program, $800 million in advanced procurement for the LX(R) amphibious ship and $75 million for the TATS(X) tugboat.
The Navy would also score $16 million for 23 additional Mk54 lightweight torpedoes and $20 million for eight heavyweight torpedoes.
The Air Force would gain another $1.2 billion for aircraft, including $691 million for five F-35As, $452 million for five C-130Js, and $24.8 million for an F-16 mission training center.
McCain’s amendment adds $290 million for cooperative missile defense programs with Israel such as David’s Sling and Iron Dome.
It also increases operations and maintenance funding for all of the services. Notably, the Army would score $4.4 billion to augment training and readiness, and the Navy would get another $1 billion to help fund ship maintenance and other expenses.
Earlier in the day, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed its fiscal year 2017 defense and homeland security spending bills during a Thursday markup. For both bills, the only amendments offered were two manager’s packages containing small changes in language or requests for additional information, and both were approved with no opposition.