The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would scale back automatic budget cuts to the Defense Department and retirement benefits to military veterans.
The bill – crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., his counterpart in the Senate – easily passed the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 332-94.
"This bill is a firm step in the right direction," Ryan said on the floor of the House before the vote. "It’s not perfect. It’s a start."
Separately, the chamber also overwhelmingly approved a policy bill that sets troops' pay raises at 1 percent next year, funds weapons programs such as the F-35 fighter jet and adopts provisions to better combat military sexual assault. The House voted 350-69 for the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the year that began Oct. 1.
Both measures are expected to face votes in the Democratic-led Senate next week.
The Ryan-Murray bill, known as the Bipartisan Budget Act, would undo about $62 billion of the government’s across-the-board spending reductions, known as sequestration, over two years, according to a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. The funding would be split evenly among defense and domestic programs, meaning the Pentagon would receive about $31 billion in additional funding in 2014 and 2015.
Defense contractors had welcomed the agreement for providing a measure of financial predictability and urged lawmakers to vote for it.
"Not only will this provide some sequestration relief, allowing at least some essential programs to go forward, it will also allow the appropriations process to proceed and develop a real budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and next," Marion Blakey, chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group representing defense and aerospace companies, said in a statement.
The Defense Department faces about $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade as part of 2011 deficit-reduction legislation known as the Budget Control Act. That includes almost $500 billion in reductions already planned and another $500 billion in automatic cuts that will take effect unless Congress and the White House agree on an alternative spending plan.
The budget compromise would undo some of those reductions.
Of the $62 billion in total sequestration relief in the pact, $44 billion would be applied in 2014 and another $18 billion in 2015, according to the CBO. That means the Pentagon would receive an additional $22 billion in 2014 and another $9 billion the following year, according to the office.
The spending would be offset by raising revenue and cutting costs elsewhere in the budget, from increasing security fees for commercial airline passengers to reducing contributions to civilian and military pensions.
Working-age military retirees -- those between the ages of 40 and 62 -- would receive an annual cost-of-living increase to their retirement benefits that's 1 percent less than the rise in inflation. The reduction would be phased in over three years and take full effect in 2016.