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Senate Panel Passes $594 Billion Defense Bill


A U.S. Senate panel approved a $594 billion defense spending bill for next year that seeks to restore the readiness of combat units amid automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee today passed the legislation, which includes $516.4 billion for the Defense Department's base budget and $77.8 billion for overseas contingency operations, including the war in Afghanistan, in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

"With increasingly limited funds, this bill cuts waste, prioritizes department spending, and puts a premium on readiness," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, the panel's chairman, said in a statement. "Our choices will only get tougher if we let sequestration continue for fiscal year 2014 and future spending bills.”

The Pentagon faces $500 billion in across-the-board cuts over a decade. That’s in addition to almost $500 billion in defense reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment of automatic cuts began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach a deal to avert them.

Unless Republicans and Democrats find common ground on taxes and spending, particularly on domestic programs, the cuts will slice the Pentagon's budget next year by about $52 billion.

The White House has threatened to veto the House's version of the defense spending bill. The chamber last week passed a measure totaling $598 billion, including a $512.5 billion base budget and $85.8 billion war budget, which would be paid for in part by cutting education, health research and other domestic programs.

In their spending plans for defense next year, the White House, the House and the Senate all assume the automatic reductions will be avoided -- which isn't necessarily realistic, given the budget gridlock in Washington.

Nevertheless, the Senate bill would give troops and civilian workers a 1 percent pay raise, restrict development of service-specific combat uniforms and set aside $25 million to provide sexual assault victims with legal assistance and support.

It would increase funding for training exercises, flying hours and depot maintenance. It would also add $227 million to the Navy's Virginia-class submarine program and $100 million to the DDG 51 destroyer program for so-called 10-ship, multi-year contracts.

The legislation would fund the planned purchase of 29 F-35 fighter jets, though limit funding in 2015 to keep focus on testing and software deliveries. It would also provide funding to buy more of the Army's CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters, the Air Force's C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft, the Navy's P-8 Poseidon and E-2D Hawkeye planes, the Marine Corps' MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and the Army's battlefield communications systems.

The bill would fund the development of future programs such as the Air Force's Long Range Strike bomber and KC-46 refueling tanker, the Navy's next-generation jammer and the MQ-4 Triton drone, and the Army and Marine Corps' Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace the Humvee.

The legislation would provide less war funding than the Obama administration requested, in part because it would strip funding for the Pentagon's planned purchase of additional Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan security forces.

The Moscow-based manufacturer, Russian Helicopters, makes both civilian and military versions of the aircraft. Another company, Rosoboronexport, the state-owned arms exporter also based in Moscow, sells military variants abroad.

Lawmakers have repeatedly criticized the deal, saying the U.S. shouldn't be buying weapons from a company that funnels arms to the regime in Syria, where more than 100,000 people have died in an ongoing civil war.

The full committee is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.

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