House Passes $696 Billion NDAA

The House voted 344-81 to approve its version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act on Friday. The bill contains $621 billion in base budget spending and $75 billion in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund, of which $10 billion will pay for base requirements.

The House now waits on the Senate to debate and pass its version of the NDAA. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its markup of the bill on June 28, but that bill is not yet scheduled to come before the full Senate.

The House NDAA funding levels exceed those in the budget request submitted by President Donald Trump but fall short of the $640 billion baseline supported by House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). The bill also includes a provision to establish a separate Space Corps, essentially a whole new military service with its own Chief of Staff, within the Air Force.

Over two and a half days of often-heated floor debate, the House considered 210 amendments to the bill. In the final day of debate, lawmakers voted down efforts to prevent the Department of Defense from paying for medical care related to gender transition for military members and to require a controversial Pentagon study of Islamic religious doctrines used by extremist groups.

Overshadowing the debate and passage of the bill is the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the caps it places on military and domestic discretionary spending. Legally, Congress can spend no more than $549 billion on base defense in FY18, according to the BCA caps. The House NDAA exceeds that number by $72 billion. Before its authorized spending levels can be appropriated, Congress would have to strike a new budget deal that eliminates or changes the BCA caps.

In floor debate, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) warned that the spending increases authorized by the bill would vanish “unless we address the broader issue of sequestration and budget caps.” Thornberry, however, insisted that the NDAA was “only one step in the process,” and that it authorized necessary funding for the US military.