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House approves bill authorizing $633 billion in defense spending

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives approved the final version of the annual defense policy bill on Thursday, authorizing $633.3 billion in defense spending for 2013, easing limits on satellite exports and providing more Marines for embassy security.

The Republican-controlled House approved the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 315-107. The measure must still be approved by the Senate before it can go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

The measure authorizes a Pentagon base budget of $527.5 billion, plus $88.5 billion for overseas operations, primarily the war in Afghanistan. The base budget includes $17.4 billion for defense-related nuclear programs at the Energy Department.

The NDAA sets defense policy for the year. While it authorizes spending levels for different military programs, it does not appropriate the money. That is done under separate legislation in the House and Senate.

In addition to authorizing the size of the military budget, the bill approved a 1.7 pay increase for military personnel and blocked a Pentagon effort to offset rising healthcare costs for retirees by raising some health insurance fees.

The measure eases restrictions on the export of satellites to help U.S. manufacturers, who have seen their global share of the market shrink to less than 25 percent from 65 percent 15 years ago, said Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

"The cumbersome nature of that regime has significantly harmed U.S. satellite industry," Smith said during debate on the measure. "Getting back to a competitive place with that industry is critical to our national security."

The measure directs Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to develop and implement a plan to increase the number of Marines assigned to embassy and consulate security by up to 1,000.

The move aims to bolster diplomatic security following the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The final bill also allows the Pentagon to continue its efforts to develop biofuels, rejecting a House attempt to prevent the purchase of fuels that are more expensive than petroleum and to place limits on military assistance to companies trying to build commercial scale biofuel refineries.

(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Sandra Maler and Stacey Joyce)

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