WASHINGTON — Congress on Thursday sent President Donald Trump a sweeping defense policy bill authorizing a $700 billion budget for the military, including $340 million for MOX at Savannah River Site.
The defense authorization bill for 2018 sailed through the Senate by voice vote. The House had approved the measure earlier this week.
The Trump administration and former President Obama both asked for the nuclear fuel project to be de-funded, but Congress funded it anyway.
The MOX project was born from a 2000 non-proliferation agreement between the U.S. and Russia, which called for the removal of 34 metric tons of plutonium from each nation’s arsenal. The project in Aiken County would convert the plutonium from retired nuclear weapons into a blend with uranium so it can be used in commercial nuclear reactors.
Lawmakers say the tens of billions of extra dollars in the defense bill are sorely needed to restock a U.S. military depleted by years of combat and a broken budgeting process that leaves the U.S. armed forces unsure of how much money they’ll get each year.
But while the $700 billion military budget is a powerful political statement, the bigger figure remains notional until Congress can agree to roll back a 2011 law that set strict limits on federal budgets, including the Defense Department’s. The cap mandated by the law on national defense spending for the 2018 budget year is $549 billion.
Republicans and Democrats haven’t been able to strike a deal so far. Many Republicans favor easing the caps only for defense spending. But Democrats also want to increase the budgets for other government agencies.
If they fail to reach an accord, Congress could be forced to again use stopgap spending bills. Under these short-term measures, the Pentagon’s budget is locked at current levels and the military services can be barred from starting new programs or ending old ones. Top military officials have testified that the stopgap measures have forced them to shift dollars intended for new weapons to pay for ongoing operations.
The 2018 defense bill allots about $634 billion for core Pentagon operations and nearly $66 billion for wartime missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. The funding boost pays for more troops, jet fighters, ships and other weapons needed to halt an erosion of the military’s combat readiness, according to the bill’s backers.
Trump’s 2018 request sought $603 billion for basic functions and $65 billion for overseas missions.
The defense legislation includes $12.3 billion for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and orders a more rapid buildup of the nation’s missile defenses as Pyongyang has refused to back away from developing nuclear missiles capable of striking the United States.
The policy bill also grants U.S. troops a 2.4 percent pay raise, which is slightly higher than the wage increase the Pentagon had proposed.
Lawmakers also approved an increase of more than 20,000 active-duty and reserve troops from last year’s level. The Army gets the largest boost and will receive 7,500 more active-duty Army soldiers and 1,000 additional reserve troops.
The defense bill provides money for 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 20 more than Trump asked for, as well as 24 F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters, 10 more than requested. The budget also includes three Littoral Combat Ships, two beyond the budget request. The ships are new to the fleet and operate in congested areas near the shore against small boats and mines.