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House passes defense policy bill backing submarine construction at EB, provides money for new pier at sub base

The U.S. House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed an annual defense policy bill that includes support for the recently announced submarine contract awarded to Electric Boat and money to replace an aging pier at the Naval Submarine Base to accommodate a longer, more modern version of the attack submarine that will be built.

The bill, which authorizes $738 billion in defense spending, passed the House by a vote of 377 to 48. The Senate is expected to take up the measure next week. President Donald Trump has indicated he intends to sign the bill.

The bipartisan House support for the bill followed months of partisan debate over what would be included, namely a fight over provisions related to Trump's proposed wall on the southern border. Lawmakers also had to sort out differences between the Senate and House versions of the measure.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who was among the lawmakers selected to negotiate the final version of the bill, dismissed criticism that the bill was a win for Republicans, saying that was "off base."

Courtney pointed to what he called bipartisan achievements in the legislation, such as 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees, which, he said, was a "a great step in achieving parity between members of the military and the civilian workforce that supports them," and the phasing out of the so-called Widow's Tax, which prevented some military survivors from receiving two different sets of benefits to which they're entitled.

Courtney became chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of Navy shipbuilding, at the start of this year with the Democratic takeover of the House following the 2018 midterm elections. He said the bill the House passed reflects many of his priorities.

The bill authorizes $8.5 billion for two Virginia-class attack submarines. The Navy recently awarded EB, which is in Courtney's district, a $22.2 billion contract to build at least nine Virginia-class submarines from now through 2023. The contract includes the option to buy a 10th submarine, which Courtney has pushed for. The bill authorizes $200 million to buy materials for that 10th boat, which Courtney said is a "strong statement in Congressional support" for construction of 10 submarines over the timeline of the contract.

Another $2.4 billion is authorized under the bill for the Columbia-class submarine program, a new fleet of 12 ballistic missile submarines, and the bill authorizes $8 million to support workforce training programs to develop the employees needed to carry out this work.

The bill also includes $72.3 million to replace an aging pier at the sub base with one that is longer and wider to accommodate the new Virginia-class submarines. The new subs will include an 85-foot section to increase payload capacity.

j.bergman@theday.com

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