Senate passes $700B defense bill
The Senate easily cleared a nearly $700 billion defense policy bill on Monday, despite a fight over amendments that slowed down the legislation.
Senators voted 89-8 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes roughly $640 billion in base defense spending and $60 billion in war funds.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) voted against the mammoth bill.
GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), as well as Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) missed the vote.
Senators will now need to go to conference with House lawmakers to reconcile differences between their two versions of the bill. They’ll then have to pass a compromise deal by the end of the year and send it to President Trump’s desk.
Monday night’s passage of the bill comes after lawmakers filed more than 400 amendments to the legislation. Only one, a failed effort by Paul to sunset the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations, got a vote.
The hang up, according to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), stemmed around four proposals that lawmakers wanted a vote on, including a push by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to “end sequestration” and a measure from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stripping limitations on medical research funded by the Pentagon
Cotton knocked Democrats for not agreeing to lift the spending caps, saying they are “holding our troops hostage to politics solely because their leader wants them to.”
“Whenever a Democratic senator says they are worried about the state of our military, they are horrified about the kind of cuts we’re making … don’t believe them. They don’t mean it. They’re not serious,” he said.
The stalemate on amendments forced Senate leadership to start wrapping up the bill late last week and run out the Senate’s clock on debate time.
Despite the slow walking, the legislation was still widely expected to easily pass before lawmakers leave Washington mid-week. Senators agreed to speed up a series of final procedural votes on Monday evening.
McCain and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top two members of the Armed Services Committee, also got a deal to tuck more than 150 noncontroversial amendments into the Senate bill.
And leadership offered their support for both the overall defense bill and McCain ahead of Monday’s vote.
“The members of that committee, from both parties, came together to support this year’s NDAA and send it to the Senate floor. It’s yet another testament to the leadership of Sen. McCain, the committee’s top Republican, and Sen. Reed, his Democratic counterpart,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Now that the Senate has cleared its legislation, they will need to work with the House to hammer out a deal, including coming to an agreement on defense spending.
The Trump administration requested a $603 billion base defense budget and $65 billion for the war fund, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account.
But the House’s defense bill, contrasting with the Senate, includes only $632 billion in base spending, but $65 billion in war funding.
The House’s bill also backed creating a new military branch dedicated to space, called the Space Corps, while the Senate’s version did not.