House passes defense bill; Senate to vote next

The House passed a nearly $700 billion defense authorization bill Tuesday that will add more planes, ships and troops at a time Pentagon leaders say the military has strained under spending caps and high operational tempo.

Even with the bill’s passage, defense spending caps known as sequestration will remain in place until congressional lawmakers pass a follow-on appropriations bill to lift the spending restrictions. The Senate is set to vote next on the measure.

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A continuing resolution that caps spending at last year’s levels expires Dec. 8, putting pressure on lawmakers to act.

“There is a general sense that when the existing (continuing resolution) expires on Dec. 8, that Congress will not be ready to approve a year-long appropriations bill,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.

Lawmakers face tackling a massive tax reform bill, among other competing priorities, he noted.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and a House Armed Services Committee member, urged his colleagues to support the measure.

“If we do not begin with this budget to set favorable conditions to start to reverse the high-risk defense posture we currently have, we will significantly jeopardize our military’s advantage that we’ve taken for granted in past conflicts and steady-state operations,” Turner said on the House floor.

The defense bill voted on Tuesday authorizes $6.8 million for a fire station at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and would make it harder to move a Department of Defense office at Wright-Patt with 25 employees whose work focuses on boosting the U.S. defense industrial base.

The legislation also urges more cooperation between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force Research Laboratory for drone sense and avoidance testing at Springfield Air National Guard Base.

“This bill ensures the free flow of ideas and research continues between civilian and military government agencies to further enhance commercial drone development (and) cutting-edge technologies,” U.S. rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, and the amendment sponsor, said in a statement.

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Under the legislation, the Air Force Institute of Technology could expand student numbers by allowing admission of homeland security industry employees, Gessel said.

Currently, AFIT enrolls civilian students in the defense industry currently in addition to military and federal government employees.

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