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House OKs $570 billion defense bill

WASHINGTON - The House Friday passed a $570 billion Pentagon spending measure in that would reject Air Force plans to retire the war-tested A-10 aircraft and pour almost $1 billion into Boeing Co.’s radar-jamming jets.

The Republican-led House, on a 340-73 vote, took the first step in funding Pentagon operations, personnel and equipment for the 2015 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The bill, H.R. 4870, would provide $491 billion in discretionary spending for Pentagon programs and $79.4 billion in war funding. The Senate has yet to write its version of the defense bill.

“Our goal throughout this bill is to support our war fighters now and in the future,” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said during floor debate.

The White House, while stopping short of a veto threat, said this week it “strongly opposes” the bill because it would constrain the administration’s ability to carry out its defense strategy and reduce costs at a time of shrinking budgets. The House ignored Pentagon requests for changes to basic military pay, health benefits and housing allowances designed to save money and barred the start of another round of base closures.

With a sectarian crisis overtaking Iraq, the House rejected efforts to bar any military action in the Middle Eastern country.

In a test of lawmakers’ willingness to trim costs, A-10 supporters succeeded in their bid to keep the close-air support planes flying. The Pentagon said retiring the fleet could save more than $4 billion over five years.

By a vote of 300-114, the House passed an amendment by Reps. Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican, and Ron Barber, an Arizona Democrat, that would bar the Pentagon from taking steps to retire the so-called “Warthog.” The Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and Utah delegations had a stake in the A-10 because of military activity or maintenance work in their states.

The House adopted an amendment that seeks to choke off the National Security Agency’s ability to conduct warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens. The amendment, spearheaded by California Democrat Zoe Lofgren and Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, would prohibit the collection and search of U.S. citizens’ communications without a warrant.

It also would bar intelligence agencies from using any funds in the bill to persuade technology companies to build so- called back doors into their services or products to allow for government surveillance.

One provision in the bill seeks to punish the administration for failing to notify Congress before swapping five Taliban detainees for captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.

The provision by Frelinghuysen would withhold 85 percent of the allotted war funding until the Defense Department provides Congress with details on how the money would be spent, including an assurance no funds would be used in violation of a law requiring a 30-day congressional notification before detainees are sent to a foreign country.

In addition, the measure would bar any spending to release or transfer detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to their country of origin or to any other foreign country.

On weapons programs, the measure would:

– Provide $975 million for 12 radar-jamming Boeing Growlers that the Pentagon didn’t request. The Navy told Congress that it has an unfunded priority for 22 more Growlers built in St. Louis, Missouri.

– Preserve a Navy fleet of 11 carriers by providing almost $800 million for the refueling of the USS George Washington. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the overhaul of the carrier by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. based in Newport News, Virginia, may have to be called off, reducing the U.S. carriers to 10 ships, if automatic budget cuts known as sequestration resume in full force as planned in fiscal 2016.

– Trim the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program, funding two of the shore-hugging vessels instead of the three the Navy requested. Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Maryland, and Henderson, Australia-based Austal Ltd. make the ships.

– Urge the Army to look at variants of both tracked and wheeled vehicles for its new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle program. That may benefit General Dynamics Corp., which fought the Army and BAE Systems Inc. to get a piece of the $10.2 billion program to build new combat vehicles. General Dynamics would also benefit from $120 million that the Pentagon didn’t request for upgraded M1A2 Abrams battle tanks.

– Boost funding for UH-60 Black Hawks, allotting $2.4 billion for 87 of the helicopters built by Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp. The Army requested $1.4 billion for 79 Black Hawks - 55 UH-60Ms and 24 HH-60Ms.

– Increase money for Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, funding 38 planes in fiscal 2015, four more than the Pentagon requested.

– Hand a victory to Oklahoma’s House delegation by giving Tinker Air Force Base a chance to keep its seven Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control system aircraft that the Air Force wants to retire.

– Block the transfer of Apache helicopters from the National Guard to the regular Army. The Army estimates it would save roughly $12 billion by shifting about 100 UH-60 Black Hawks to the Guard and using the Apaches to replace OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters for combat missions.

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