May 24, 2018 / 10:43 PM / 25 days ago

U.S. Senate panel targets China, Russia in massive defense bill

WASHINGTON, May 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of a $716 billion annual defense policy bill on Thursday, joining counterparts in the House of Representatives in labeling China and Russia as threats to the United States and its allies.

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, includes measures targeting the two “strategic competitors,” including a clampdown on trade rules and a ban on the Defense Department dealing with any entity that uses telecommunications equipment or services from Chinese companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp.

The bill also extends a limitation on U.S.-Russian military cooperation, “expresses the sense of the Senate” that it is U.S. policy to strengthen the defense of allies and partners in Europe to deter Russian aggression and directs the Army to acquire a short-term capability to fill gaps in cruise missile defense, to defend against Chinese and Russian threats.

One of the few pieces of major legislation passed by Congress every year, the NDAA is used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy measures, as well as determining everything from military pay levels and benefits to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.

This year’s Senate bill is named after six-term Senator John McCain, the Armed Services Committee’s Republican chairman and Vietnam War hero, who has been absent from Washington all year as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer.

Both the Senate and House versions of this year’s bill also target Turkey, a NATO ally whose relations with Washington have become increasingly strained in recent months.

The Senate bill also seeks to beef up the U.S. response to cyber attacks, by mandating that the country employs “all instruments of national power,” including its own cyber capabilities, to deter and respond to cyber attacks.

The 2019 NDAA is unlikely to become law for several months. The version passed by Senate Armed Services must be approved by the full Senate, where it can also be amended. And then it must be reconciled with the House bill, which passed earlier on Thursday by 351-66.

After negotiators from the House and Senate agree on a compromise NDAA, it must pass both chambers, and then be sent to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign into law or veto. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle Editing by James Dalgleish)

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