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House passes defense bill without base closures

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House on Friday decisively approved a defense policy bill that declares climate change a threat to national security, demands rigorous oversight of the Pentagon’s cyber operations, and rebuffs the Trump administration’s bid to close excess military bases.

Lawmakers voted, 344 to 81, to pass the sweeping legislation. The bill authorizes $696 billion for managing the nation’s vast military enterprise in the 2018 fiscal year, nearly $30 billion more for core Pentagon operations than President Trump requested.

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Yet defense hawks pushing the hardest for the big boost in spending still face an uphill battle. For the spending increases to materialize, Congress first will have to agree to roll back a 2011 law that set strict limits on military spending.

Getting a deal won’t be easy. Lifting the so-called budget caps will take 60 votes in the Senate and Democrats are seeking to increase the budgets for other government agencies.

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If a budget deal can’t be reached, Congress may be forced to fund the military through the use of stopgap spending bills. Under these short-term agreements, the Pentagon’s budget is set at current levels and the military services are barred from starting new programs.

In a separate development Friday, the White House Office of Management and Budget said worsening tax revenues will cause the federal budget deficit to jump to $702 billion this year. That’s a $99 billion spike from what was predicted less than two months ago.

The defense bill includes a section that says global warming is ‘‘a direct threat to the national security.’’ It’s a potentially surprising addition given Trump’s publicly stated doubts about climate change and his recent decision to pull the country out of the landmark accord aimed at combatting global warming.

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Over White House objections, the bill added a bipartisan measure requiring the Defense Department to inform Congress within 48 hours of ‘‘any sensitive military cyber operation.’’ Offensive and defensive cyber operations are covered by the requirement, although covert actions are exempt.

The bill rejected the Trump administration’s request that the Pentagon be given the authority to start a new round of military base closings in 2021. Military installations are prized possessions in congressional districts.

The House turned aside a measure that sought to strike an Obama-era practice of requiring the Pentagon to pay for gender transition surgeries and hormone therapy.

Democrats cast the proposal as bigoted, unconstitutional. and cowardly and they won support on Thursday from 24 GOP lawmakers to scuttle the amendment to the annual defense policy bill, 214 to 209.

The transgender measure crafted by Representative Vicky Hartzler, Republican of Missouri, would have forbid money from being spent by the military’s health care system for medical treatment related to gender transition. Hartzler portrayed her proposal as a good government plan aimed at assuring military dollars are spent only on critical national defense needs.

Hartzler estimated transition surgeries, which she said most private insurance plans don’t even cover, could cost the military $1.3 billion over the next 10 years. Troops who have the surgery require months of recovery, she added, which means they’re unavailable to do their jobs.

‘‘It makes no sense to create soldiers who are unable to fight and win our nation’s wars,’’ Hartzler said.

But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the amendment an attack on the health and dignity of thousands of US service members, and Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said Hartzler intended to ‘‘politically denigrate’’ transgender troops.

Transgender service members have been able to serve openly in the military since last year, when former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter ended the ban. A Rand Corp. study found that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members in the active-duty military, and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves.

In the Senate on Friday, the Republican health care bill was hanging by a thread, and no one was under more pressure than Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada.

Heller was already seen as the most endangered GOP incumbent senator in next year’s midterm elections. He is the only one running for reelection in a state Trump lost to former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

There are already two GOP senators opposed to the revamped bill — moderate Susan Collins of Maine and conservative Rand Paul of Kentucky — so one more ‘‘no’’ vote would kill the bill outright in a Senate divided, 52 to 48, between Republicans and Democrats.

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