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Military Budget to Swell Under Bill    09/19 06:10

   The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping defense policy bill that 
would pump $700 billion into the military, putting the U.S. armed forces on 
track for a budget greater than at any time during the decade-plus wars in Iraq 
and Afghanistan.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping defense 
policy bill that would pump $700 billion into the military, putting the U.S. 
armed forces on track for a budget greater than at any time during the 
decade-plus wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

   Senators passed the legislation by an 89-8 vote Monday. The measure 
authorizes $700 billion in military spending for the budget year that begins 
Oct. 1, expands U.S. missile defenses in response to North Korea's growing 
hostility and refuses to allow excess military bases to be closed.

   The 1,215-page measure defies a number of White House objections, but 
President Donald Trump hasn't threatened to veto it. The bill helps him honor a 
pledge to rebuild an American military that he said had become depleted on 
former President Barack Obama's watch.

   Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other national security hawks have insisted 
the military branches are at risk of losing their edge in combat without a 
dramatic influx of money to repair shortfalls in training and equipment.

   An animated McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, bemoaned the 
limits imposed on military spending by both Democrats and Republicans. He said 
the rash of training accidents and crashes --- since mid-July, nearly 100 
service members have been killed or injured in close to a dozen mishaps --- can 
be linked to the budget cuts.

   "My friends, more of our men and women in uniform are now being killed in 
totally avoidable training accidents and routine operations than by our enemies 
in combat," McCain said. "Where is the outrage about this? Where is our sense 
of urgency to deal with this problem?"

   Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said senior military leaders are taking a close 
look at whether strict budget constraints are to blame.

   Approved by the Armed Services Committee by a 27-0 vote in late June, the 
overall Senate bill provides $640 billion for core Pentagon operations, such as 
buying weapons and paying troops, and another $60 billion for wartime missions 
in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Trump's budget request sought $603 
billion for basic functions and $65 billion for overseas missions.

   With North Korea's nuclear program a growing threat to the U.S. and its 
allies, the bill includes $8.5 billion to strengthen U.S. missile and defense 
systems. That's $630 million more than the Trump administration sought for 
those programs, according to a committee analysis.

   North Korea last week conducted its longest-ever test flight of a ballistic 
missile, firing an intermediate-range weapon over U.S. ally Japan into the 
northern Pacific Ocean. The launch signaled both defiance of its rivals and a 
significant technological advance.

   The legislation directs the Defense Department to deploy up to 14 additional 
ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, an increase that will expand 
to 58 the number of interceptors designed to destroy incoming warheads. The 
department also is tasked with finding a storage site for as many as 14 other 
spare interceptors, and senators envision an eventual arsenal of 100 with 
additional missile fields in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

   The White House, in a statement issued earlier this month, called the order 
for more interceptors "premature" given the Pentagon's ongoing review of 
missile defense programs.

   Despite the push for the additional billions in military spending, major 
hurdles need to be cleared before all the extra money materializes. Lawmakers 
will have to work out a deal that lifts the caps on federal agency budgets, 
including the Pentagon's, mandated by a 2011 law. Congress has passed temporary 
relief from the limits before, but senior military officials have urged for the 
law to be repealed altogether.

   Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he voted against the defense bill because the 
measure "blows the budget caps by nearly $83 billion." Corker, who chairs the 
Foreign Relations Committee, also said the overseas missions account is 
"repeatedly abused" to pay for normal operations. A self-described fiscal 
conservative, Corker is weighing whether to run for a third term.

   As their House counterparts did, the Senate bill rejects Mattis' plan to 
launch a new round of base closings starting in 2021. He told lawmakers in June 
that closing excess installations would save $10 billion over a five-year 
period. Mattis said the savings could be used to acquire four nuclear 
submarines or dozens of jet fighters. But military installations are prized 
possessions in states and lawmakers refused to go along.

   The bill allots $10.6 billion for 94 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, which is 
two dozen more than Trump requested. The bill also provides $25 billion to pay 
for 13 ships, which is $5 billion and five ships more than the Trump sought.


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