WASHINGTON - The House overwhelmingly approved a comprehensive defense policy bill Thursday that aims to stem the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military, cover the cost of combat pay for the nation's war-fighters, and fund new aircraft and ships.
The strong bipartisan vote was 350-69, and puts pressure on the Senate to act before it adjourns next week.
Reflecting the drawdown in Afghanistan and reduced defense spending, the bill would authorize $552.1 billion for the regular budget plus $80.7 billion for conflicts overseas in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. It represents a compromise worked out by the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services committees after a similar bill stalled in the Senate just before Thanksgiving.
In appealing for support, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services panel, said the measure provides "badly needed reforms to help alleviate the crisis of sexual assault in the military."
Congress has passed the National Defense Authorization Act every year since the Kennedy administration.
The comprehensive bill would provide a 1 percent salary increase for military personnel, keep construction going on bases and an aircraft carrier in Virginia, and pay for the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria.
The bill would also provide money to consider a possible location of a missile-defense site on the East Coast.
The legislation includes nearly two dozen provisions addressing the epidemic of sexual assault in the military. The bill would strip military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case, and require that any individual convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal.