May defense bill vote seen in U.S. House, acquisition reform in works

By Patricia Zengerle

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives is moving toward a vote in mid-May on the annual half-billion-dollar defense policy bill, U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Monday.

Thornberry also said he plans to introduce next week legislation to reform the U.S. defense acquisition process. There is no schedule yet for a vote on that bill in the House, he told a news briefing, saying he first wanted to open up the process for comments.

The defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), will be reviewed in subcommittees during the week of April 20 and by the full Armed Services Committee during the week of April 27.

It would come before the full House around May 13, the Texas Republican said.

Considered a "must-pass" piece of legislation, the defense authorization bill authorizes spending levels for the Pentagon. But it also addresses a range of policy matters, such as the annual ban on any spending to transfer prisoners to U.S. prisons from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This year's bill might include lethal military aid for Ukraine's government as it faces separatists backed by Russia, Thornberry said. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress strongly back providing such aid to the Kiev government and members have expressed frustration with President Barack Obama's government for failing to do so.

Thornberry offered few details on his acquisition reform bill, beyond saying that it would cut back on regulations.

He also declined to say whether he and other members of the House panel would vote for a budget bill if it did not ease defense budget cuts. Some Republicans worried that the mandatory "sequestration" budget cuts are eroding military readiness have said they would not vote for any budget that continues them.

Thornberry made clear he feels the cuts are inappropriate. He said the U.S. defense budget has been cut by 18 percent in the past five years, or 24 percent, taking inflation into account.

He cited continued U.S. operations in Afghanistan, the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, unease in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and tensions between China and its neighbors.

"The world is dangerous and the pace of operations is increasing," Thornberry said.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)