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Here's how Congress saved the Navy fleet this year

House lawmakers this week voted for legislation that will let America field 10 additional ships and dramatically scaled back the Navy’s plan to shrink the fleet.

The House was considering the annual defense policy bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes Department of Defense activities and sets funding guidance for the next fiscal year.

This year’s NDAA included two provisions that gave the Navy fleet a significant boost. First was language that added $37 billion in spending authorization for the entire Defense Department, which authorized $4 billion in shipbuilding authorization for the Navy.

That authority allows the Navy to build another frigate, an oiler, two expeditionary medical ships and a DDG destroyer. It also authorized spending to restore five Littoral Combat Ships and for shipyard infrastructure improvements.

When that language was added earlier in the process, Democrats vowed to try to reverse it with an amendment on the House floor to remove the $37 billion boost. But when Democrats offered the amendment late Wednesday night, the House voted 151-277 against it.

That vote was significant because 81 Democrats voted to keep the funding in, along with 196 Republicans – a clear sign Congress is in the mood to boost Defense Department funding well above the proposal offered by President Biden. It's also a sign Congress is ready to appropriate more money to the Pentagon so it can exercise this authority.

Another amendment from Democrats to cut $100 billion in authorized defense spending failed by an even larger margin, 78-350.

A second key vote that took place Wednesday was much closer but still favored a larger Navy fleet. The NDAA includes language that allows the Navy to retire a maximum of four LCS vessels, instead of the nine the Navy wants to decommission. Democrats proposed an amendment that would remove this prohibition and allow the Navy to retire all nine ships.

But this proposal failed in a 208-221 vote, which means the Navy must keep five LCS ships it has targeted for retirement. This issue is complex – those who want to protect the LCS ships say the Navy should not be looking to retire any ship early at a time when the fleet is flat or shrinking and challenges are increasing around the world. Those who want to retire the ships worry that Congress is throwing more money at the clunky LCS ships that most agree did not live up to their promise.

Regardless, the House votes this week were a significant step toward shoring up a Navy fleet that most lawmakers agree needs to be protected against the Navy’s own planning process. The budget put forward by the Biden administration called for building nine new ships and retiring 24, for a net loss of 15.

The House ultimately approved the final version of the NDAA on Thursday night, and with that vote put the Navy on track to lose just five ships. Congress may still try to narrow that gap later this year when it considers spending bills for the next fiscal year.

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