Congress finalizes $700 billion defense spending plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of U.S. congressional defense committees said on Wednesday they supported a plan for $700 billion in defense spending in fiscal year 2018, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a boost for the military.

The House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services committees agreed on the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which would increase troop levels and purchases of fighter jets and ships for the federal fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

The act would increase active troop levels by more than 16,000 and includes plans to buy 90 stealthy F-35 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The spending plan is larger than the $603 billion in spending proposed by Trump in May. Trump wants to pay for a military spending increase by slashing non-defense spending.

The Trump proposal included funding for the Department of Defense as well as nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy and other national defense programs.

Senior staff for the Armed Services committees said the NDAA gives $634 billion for the same programs, with total defense spending, including the Pentagon and defense related programs at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to $699.6 billion.

The Pentagon alone would get $692 billion of that, including $65.7 billion for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To become law the NDAA must be passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by Trump. The bill, one of the few pieces of legislation that gets through Congress every year, has passed every year since 1961.

The request for defense spending is well beyond last year’s $619 billion, defying “sequestration” spending caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act. The caps would need to be lifted before the 2018 spending could be approved.

In addition to more active-duty troops, the spending plan incorporates additional money recently requested for missile defense.[nL1N1NC20Q]

The proposal also gives the Navy authorization for an additional five ships above Trump’s original budget request. The ships include an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer made by General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc and a total of three Littoral Combat Ships built by Lockheed Martin and Australia’s Austal Ltd.

Reporting by Mike StoneEditing by Jonathan Oatis