The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a combined version of National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 that will see defense spending set at $585 billion for 2015. After a bipartisan vote of 300-119, the legislation will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to be voted on next week. The equivalent figure for fiscal 2014 was $615 billion.
While the House passed its version of the bill earlier in the year, the Senate did not bring its own version to the floor at any point, but took part in negotiations to draft a version decided upon by a panel made up from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees earlier this week. The entire Senate will now vote on the combined legislation before it goes the the White House.
For 52 straight years the legislation has always passed on time, but this year's bill comes at a time when lawmakers are forced to plan for automatic sequestration in 2016, causing rifts among military leaders, the White House and congressional lawmakers who all have different ideas over what elements of defense should be prioritized.
For example, while the Air Force wanted to scrap the aging A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, Congress stepped in to save it, with its biggest advocate, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., saying that getting rid of it would "seriously endanger American lives." The Navy, as another example, wanted to decommission one of its 11 aircraft carriers, the USS George Washington, but again, Congress stepped in to save it.
The bill involves base funding of $521 billion with $64 billion for overseas contingency operations.
The Senate will move to vote on its version of the bill next week, but Republicans are already unhappy about provisions that allow the federal government to take land for non-defense purposes. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the provisions an "extreme land grab."
“With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork,” Cruz said in a Wednesday statement.
The bill will also add a $3 copay to military health benefits while other benefits are reduced for troops and their families.