The House on Wednesday night advanced an $883.7 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2025. It provides a 20% pay boost to junior enlisted troops while pushing back against the Defense Department’s shipbuilding and Air Force procurement plans.

The Armed Services Committee voted 57-1 to advance the Servicemember Quality of Life Improvement and National Defense Authorization Act to the House floor after considering more than 700 amendments during a roughly 12-hour markup. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., cast the single vote against the legislation.

The bill adheres to the spending caps from last year’s debt ceiling deal, allowing a 1% increase over the $874.2 billion FY24 defense policy bill.

“This bill is also the product of hundreds of hours of oversight done by all members and staff over the past few months,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said ahead of the committee vote. “It is a good bill that will help revitalize the defense industrial base and build the ready, capable, and lethal fighting force we need to deter China and our other adversaries.”

The legislation would incrementally fund a second attack submarine for FY25 against the Pentagon’s wishes, block certain aircraft retirements and maintain restrictions on downsizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The Navy, citing industrial base delays, only asked for one Virginia-class submarine for FY25 in a break from the two-per-year cadence. But the defense bill provides $1 billion toward funding for the second submarine and intends to provide additional funds for the vessel in future fiscal years.

Meanwhile, the bill would procure 58 F-35 fighter jets for FY25, 10 less than the Pentagon requested amid growing congressional frustration with manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Ma., floated – then withdrew – an amendment that would have authorized the defense secretary to seize intellectual property from Lockheed Martin and open it up to competition, taking aim at the F-35′s software problems.

Moulton was not able to hold a vote on the amendment after a Congressional Budget Office cost determination but that didn’t stop lawmakers from excoriating Lockheed Martin.

“We all know that the F-35 program is behind schedule,” said Moulton. “It’s way over budget grossly and it’s not delivering the programs ready to fight that we need.”

Several Republicans, including Reps. Morgan Lutrell of Texas as well as Carlos Gimenez and Cory Mills of Florida, also said they may support Moulton’s efforts in the years ahead.

But Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, cautioned that “it’s no small thing for the government to confiscate intellectual property.”

“In law, we would possibly have to compensate them for that, which would be really, really, really expensive,” said Smith.

Additionally, the bill would block the Air Force’s effort to retire 32 Block 20 F-22 Raptors, also made by Lockheed Martin, through FY27. It would also pause the Air Force’s plans to retire 26 F-15E Strike Eagles, made by Boeing.

The bill also prevents efforts to retire the B83 nuclear gravity bomb, which is at least 80 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and requires the military to deploy at least 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

It also establishes a chief talent management officer at the Pentagon to improve recruitment, retention and workforce development for military personnel and civilian employees alike.

The committee also adopted an amendment that would automatically register all male U.S. residents ages 18 to 26 into the Selective Service amid a drop in mandatory registrations from eligible individuals in recent years. The committee adopted the amendment from Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., by voice vote.

The committee also voted down multiple amendments. For instance, it overwhelmingly voted 46-11 against an amendment from Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., that would have abolished the requirement for military services and combatant commands to submit annual unfunded priorities lists to Congress.

They also struck down 48-10 an amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., that would have banned the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine.

Quality of life

This year’s committee draft of the authorization bill had a specific focus on military quality of life issues, after panel lawmakers spent the last 15 months reviewing ways to address frequent complaints among troops and family members.

“No service member should have to live in squalid conditions. No military family should have to rely on food stamps to feed their children,” said Rogers. “And no one serving this country should have to wait weeks to see a doctor or a mental health specialist.

“This bill will go a long way toward fixing that.”

The measure contains a dramatic overhaul of the military’s pay tables, giving a pay bump of nearly 20% to junior enlisted troops next year. The move would bring almost every service member’s base pay to more than $30,000 a year, a move lawmakers hope will limit the financial strain on younger military families.

The authorization bill also includes increases to troops’ housing allowances (bringing them up to 100% of regional housing costs) and expands eligibility for the military’s Basic Allowance for Subsistence stipend.

And lawmakers also inserted language in the defense bill improving pay and benefits for Defense Department child care workers, to help with recruiting and retention of those posts.

Those reforms are included alongside a 4.5% pay raise for all troops next year, which would be the third consecutive year of increases of more than 4% for the military.

Not including that salary hike, the cost of the quality of life reforms total about $4.2 billion, a significant section of the constrained authorization bill total. But supporters said the moves are needed now to ensure that the services can keep pace on recruiting and retention issues.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to take up its version of the legislation in June.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

In Other News
Load More