House Panel Approves $637.9 Billion Defense Authorization

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee backed $637.9 billion in defense spending, including the F-35 jets and Littoral Combat Ships that the Pentagon sought and money to upgrade M1A2 Abrams tanks that it didn’t want.

The authorization measure approved early today for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 adds about $6.4 billion to the Pentagon’s $79.4 billion request for wartime spending, with $5 billion of the increase designated for military readiness, which has been reduced by automatic cuts known as sequestration.

The bill, scheduled to be voted on by the full House next week, provides $526.6 billion in annual Pentagon spending, $17.8 billion for Department of Energy defense-related programs, $7.7 billion in mandatory military benefits and $85.8 billion in wartime spending, according to the committee’s summary. The panel authorized spending $99.6 billion for weapons systems, $1.4 billion more than requested.

In the debate over how to combat sexual assaults in the military, the committee approved language that would bar commanding officers from overturning court-martial verdicts in such cases. It also adopted an amendment by Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, that would prevent the officers from reducing penalties.

On weapons programs, the panel authorized spending for the 29 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jets requested and four additional Littoral Combat Ships, with two each made by Lockheed and Austal Ltd. The panel asked the Government Accountability Office conduct an additional review of the $34 billion vessel program in addition to two already under way.

The panel requested an independent review of the F-35’s software, which has been identified by the Pentagon’s program office as one of the program’s greatest risks.

Tank Upgrades

The committee added $168 million the Army didn’t request for continued upgrades of the M1A2 tank that General Dynamics Corp. performs in Ohio. The upgraded tanks would be transferred to the National Guard, the panel said. The push for the money was led by Representative Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican, who heads the panel’s subcommittee on Army ground forces.

It marks the second consecutive year that funds for the tank were added. The House last year budgeted $255 million in the annual measure authorizing defense spending. In a compromise with the Senate that Obama signed into law in December, the program received $210 million for this year.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to take action on its version of the defense authorization measure next week. The House defense appropriations subcommittee this week took action on its version, which largely tracks today’s moves by the authorizing panel.

The House authorization bill is H.R. 1960.

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