House, Senate panel approve defense bills that add F-35s

House and Senate defense bills would provide increased funding for the F-35.
House and Senate defense bills would provide increased funding for the F-35. Via Bloomberg

The House approved a $579 billion defense spending bill Thursday that reflected deep divisions on budget priorities and whether President Barack Obama needs new war powers to fight Islamic State militants.

The vote was 278-149 in favor of the bill, which drew stiff opposition from Democrats because it uses a war-fighting account to raise defense spending next year. The measure provides $8.4 billion for 65 next-generation F-35 fighters, eight more than requested by the Pentagon, as well as $16.9 billion toward nine Navy ships.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee approved a $576 billion defense bill that also boosts spending on the F-35 program and adds funds to speed replacement of a Russian-made engine used to launch U.S. satellites.

The Senate bill would increase the number of F-35s made by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth to 67 from the 57 requested in fiscal 2016. It would shift $730.3 million to buy six additional Marine models of the F-35 and add $97.6 million that, when combined with other previously approved but unspent funds, would buy four additional Air Force models, according to the bill report.

The Senate measure for the year that begins Oct. 1 would also add about $978 million for 12 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet jets made by Boeing Co., rejecting the Pentagon’s plan to end Navy purchases of the plane.

The panel added $143.6 million to an $84.3 million request for the Air Force to accelerate development of a replacement for Russian RD-180 engines used to launch national security satellites. Lawmakers have pushed to end dependence on the imported engines since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine soured relations with the U.S.

Before its final vote, the House rejected an amendment to force lawmakers to vote by the end of March on new war powers to fight the Islamic State.

The vote was 231-196 against the amendment, underscoring the lack of political will in both the House and the Senate on the bitterly disputed issue.

Introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, the measure would have required Congress to debate and vote on a new authorization for the use of military force by March 31. The amendment called for banning the use of funds in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria unless Congress passed a new authorization.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News.