Senate passes defense bill that supports sub construction

The U.S. Senate on Monday night passed an annual defense policy bill that aims to build up the military, including authorizing more spending for submarine programs.

The $716 billion measure passed the Senate by a vote of 85 to 10, with both of Connecticut's Democratic senators voting in favor. The House passed its version of the bill at the end of May. Differences between the two bills will be worked out in a joint conference committee.

In statements after the bill passed, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., characterized the measure as making "major investments in submarines, joint strike fighters, and helicopters to support national security and Connecticut jobs," and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the bill "supports Connecticut manufacturers and strengthens national security."

In many cases, the Senate's bill authorizes more funding for defense programs than what President Donald Trump requested.

It authorizes more than $7 billion for the Virginia-class submarine program, including $4.4 billion to continue building two Virginia submarines per year and $3 billion in advance procurement money used to buy materials that take longer to produce. That is $250 million more than what Trump requested in advance procurement funding, and the extra money could be used for the addition of a third submarine in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 or to expand the submarine industrial base to support a planned uptick in production, the senators said.

On the House side, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has pushed for building three submarines in 2022 and 2023 to sooner reach the Navy's goal of 66 attack submarines. The House's version includes $1 billion more than what Trump requested in advance procurement funding to buy materials, such as nuclear reactor components, for the additional submarines.

The Senate's version also authorizes about $3 billion for the design and development of the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, known as the Columbia-class program. Electric Boat is the prime contractor for the program, and also builds Virginia-class submarines with Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

The bill authorizes $65 million to develop low-yield nuclear weapons for submarines, and removes the requirement that Congress authorize the weapons before the Energy Department can develop them.

Murphy is against funding these kind of weapons for submarines, as well as the removal of Congressional authorization.

Senate Republicans blocked consideration of an amendment from Murphy to require the Pentagon to purchase U.S. goods and another that would have required Congressional authorization before withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea, his office said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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