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Congress Scrambling to Wrap up '11 Authorization

The U.S. House and Senate have each come up with a last-minute defense authorization bill aimed at giving the Pentagon $725 billion for FY-11, according to press releases put out by both houses of congress tonight. This comes one month to the day after incoming House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said there would likely be no such bill.

“Over the last few days, we worked closely together and then with the House of Representatives to come up with a defense bill that we believe can pass both the House and the Senate," reads a statement put out by Sen. John McCain tonight.  "Because of the unique circumstances in which the bill is being considered and the importance of the legislation to our men and women serving in uniform at a time of war, we have agreed to drop many controversial provisions that were included in the House and Senate versions of the bill."

Among the main provisions of the version of the bill released on the House Armed Service's committee website are $282 billion in readiness dollars going toward operation and maintenance of military gear and facilities, a 12 billion increase over last year's O&M authorization.

Another $60 billion is going toward the Navy and Marine Corps procurement coffers, with $18 billion of that money dedicated to buying the two services 206 aircraft. The bill also includes some sharp language telling the Department of the Navy to get its act together in dealing with a potential fighter gap caused by delays in fielding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"It is estimated that by FY 2017, the Navy and Marine Corps inventory could be at least 250 aircraft short of requirements -- the equivalent of five carrier air wings," reads the House summary of the bill. "This is an unacceptable outcome, and Congress will not support future budget requests that fail to address" the shortfall.

It goes on to say that in the coming years, lawmakers expect to see future budget requests continue "production of F-18s to prevent our naval airpower from losing significance in our nation's arsenal" unless the F-35 program can completely right itself.

The bill also calls on the Navy to move ahead with a new presidential helicopter replacement program, albeit with heavy GAO monitoring to try to avoid a repeat of the VH-71 fiasco.

It also contains $16 billion in shipbuilding funds, fully funds the Marine Corps' $3.1 billion procurement request "to help protect our Marines during combat operations" and "supports" the continued development of the Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

Meanwhile, the bill authorizes $78 billion for Army and Air Force spending. It fully funds the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle with $461 million while requiring the Pentagon to come up with a solid plan for the F-35; linking JSF production to design, testing, manufacturing and fielding milestones.

The bill does not, prevent the Pentagon from pursuing the F136 alternate engine program for the F-35 despite the fact that the Defense Department says it has no need for two engines for the plane. This comes a day after Senate appropriators included $450 million for F136 development in their massive omnibus spending bill.

Here's the House summary of the bill.

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