Trump signs nearly $700B defense policy bill
President Trump signed a nearly $700 billion annual defense policy bill on Tuesday, touting it as a step toward delivering on his promise to build up the military.
“Today with the signing of this defense bill, we accelerate the process of fully restoring America’s military might,” Trump said at a signing ceremony in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.
But though National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes the military to add troops, ships, planes and other equipment, Congress has yet to pass a spending bill to make the buildup a reality.
Indeed, even as he celebrated the NDAA, Trump hit Congress — specifically Democrats — for not passing a defense spending bill.
“Now Congress must finish the job by eliminating the defense sequester and passing a clean appropriations bill. I think it’s going to happen. We need our military; it’s got to be perfecto,” Trump said. “At this time of grave global threats, I urge Democrats to drop their shutdown threats and to send clean funding and a clean funding bill to my desk that fully funds our great military. Protecting our country should always be a bipartisan issue, just like today’s legislation.”
The NDAA passed Congress last month with large, bipartisan majorities, 356-70 in the House and by voice vote in the Senate.
The bill authorizes $626.4 billion for the base defense budget and $65.7 billion for a war fund known as Overseas Contingency Operations.
The money would go toward adding 7,500 active-duty soldiers to the Army, 4,000 active-duty sailors to the Navy, 1,000 active-duty Marines and 4,100 active-duty airmen to the Air Force. The Army, Navy and Air Force would also see increases in the reserves and National Guard.
The money would also allow for a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops, higher than the 2.1 percent requested by the administration.
The NDAA also authorizes the Pentagon to buy 90 F-35s, 20 more than requested by the administration; 24 F/A-18s, 10 more than requested; and three littoral combat ships, two more than requested, among other equipment purchases.
“Brand new beautiful equipment is on its way, the best you’ve ever had by far,” Trump said while thanking the troops. “We make the best in the world, and you’re going to have it.”
Additionally, the bill folds in the administration’s November request for $4 billion more for missile defense and $1.2 billion to support sending 3,500 more troops to Afghanistan.
But the NDAA exceeds budget caps by more than $80 billion, and Congress continues to be locked in debate over whether and by how much to raise the caps.
Last week, Congress passed a two-week stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution to buy more time for negotiations. It is likely Congress will need to pass another stopgap measure when the resolution expires Dec. 22.
Negotiators have been eyeing a $54 billion defense spending increase above the caps, lower than the NDAA but on par with the president’s budget request.
But Democrats, as they long have, are demanding parity between defense and nondefense spending.
Outside of money, the NDAA makes a number of changes to how the Pentagon will handle space operations. It does not go as far as creating a new branch of the military dedicated to space, as was first proposed, but experts say the changes it does make lay the groundwork for a new branch to one day be created.
The bill also contains a provision aimed at streamlining acquisition by allowing the Pentagon to buy commercial items online rather than through the General Services Administration.
And it includes a provision — touted as a win by Democrats — that calls climate change a “direct threat to the national security of the United States.”
Tuesday’s ceremony was also attended by Defense Secretary James Mattis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and other military leaders.
One notable absence was Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has sparred with Trump on a number of national security issues.
But Trump thanked him Tuesday for his work on the defense bill.
“He has fought very, very hard to make it just the way he wants it and that we all want it,” Trump said of McCain.
Later Tuesday, Trump issued a signing statement in which he raised constitutional questions about several provisions and said he’ll enforce those consistent with his constitutional authority. Such statements were common when former President Obama signed NDAAs, as well.
Among the provisions Trump took issue with are ones fencing funds until the president submits a cybersecurity strategy to Congress, banning military cooperation between the United States and Russia, requiring strategies to counter Russian threats and malign influence, requiring strategies against al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, taking steps to respond to Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty and requiring the president to notify Congress of sensitive cyber operations, as well as other provisions.
Updated at 3:08 p.m.