U.S. lawmakers debate funding gimmick in defense policy bill

WASHINGTON U.S. lawmakers in the House Armed Services Committee began debating an annual defense policy bill on Wednesday that would shift $18 billion in Pentagon war-funding to other military needs.

The proposed legislation would use the $18 billion to halt cuts to the size of the military and boost training and maintenance in an effort to improve U.S. military readiness.

The funding shift would leave $35.7 billion to pay for U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The House panel said that was enough to last through April 2017, giving the next president time to evaluate the security situation and make a supplemental budget request to Congress.

Representative Madeleine Bordallo, a Democrat from Guam, said she was “concerned that the short-sighted budget gimmick … may leave our troops short of funding required in the near future.”

But Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the committee, said that while “some people may call it a gimmick,” the Democratic majority in 2008 had done something very similar.

The U.S. military has warned repeatedly in recent years that ongoing efforts to trim nearly $1 trillion from projected defense budgets over a decade have forced it to postpone training, maintenance and upkeep.

The measure, the National Defense Authorization Act, sets U.S. defense policy and authorizes, but does not appropriate, funding for the Pentagon. Lawmakers in the House panel expected to vote on the final version early on Thursday, after which it will go to the full House of Representatives.

The draft bill unveiled by Thornberry this week would authorize $610.5 billion in defense spending for the 2017 fiscal year beginning in October. That total is in line with the defense spending plan proposed by Obama earlier this year.

The proposal calls for an active duty Army of 480,000 troops, which is 20,000 more than proposed in the president’s budget request.

It also seeks significant reforms in the organization of the Defense Department, including expanding the term and the advisory role of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

During debates on the legislation, lawmakers approved an amendment that calls for a senior U.S. defense official to be placed in charge of developing directed energy weapons.

The U.S. military hopes directed-energy weapons will provide it with an asymmetric advantage over potential rivals, for example enabling it to counter million-dollar missiles with a weapon that fires projectiles costing only $25,000.

(Reporting by David Alexander and Idrees Ali; Editing by Tom Brown)

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