Senate passes $750B defense bill, leaving Iran vote for Friday

The Senate passed a mammoth $750 billion defense bill Thursday, though it still needs to resolve a fight over Iran.

Senators voted 86-8 on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes spending and provides broad policy outlines for the Pentagon.

The bill provides $750 billion in total spending, including a base budget of $642.5 billion for the Pentagon and $23.3 billion for the Department of Energy’s national security programs. 

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It also gives $75.9 billion for the overseas contingency operations fund, an account that does not fall under budget cap restrictions.

Republicans touted the mammoth bill as the most significant defense policy bill that Congress will pass this year. The NDAA has been signed into law for nearly 60 consecutive years, making it a lightning rod for a wide array of related and unrelated measures. 

“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this legislation to the ongoing missions of our nation's men and women in uniform. The NDAA is simultaneously a target to guide the modernization of our all-volunteer force, a supply line to restore readiness and keep U.S. personnel equipped with the most cutting-edge lethal capabilities, a promise of critical support services to military families and a declaration to both our allies and adversaries of America’s strategic resolve,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA —Biden unveils health care plan | Proposal pitches subsidies, public option | Biden vows if you like your health insurance, 'you can keep it' | Sanders protests planned Philadelphia hospital closure MORE (R-Ky.) said from the Senate floor. 

In a boost to the administration, the Senate bill includes the administration’s request for $3.6 billion to “back fill” money the White House diverted from the military construction account as part of his national emergency declaration to build part of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. However, it does not include the administration’s request for an additional $3.6 billion in wall funding. 

The bill garnered hundreds of amendments, with 93 wrapped into a manager's package that cleared without a formal Senate floor vote. 

But, similar to previous years, votes on the heap of potential amendments quickly hit a roadblock over a fight about which proposals would be allowed to get a vote. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThis week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran MORE (R-Okla.) has blamed Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe buck stops here: How to restore accountability to the federal regulatory system Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Lawyer: Flynn will keep cooperating after co-conspirator revelations MORE (R-Ky.) for the roadblock, though Paul has argued that he can’t block the bill but wants an open amendment process. 

"I do believe that we should demand that there's an open debate with amendments,” Paul told reporters late last week.

He's filed six amendments to the NDAA, including one repealing the 2001 war authorization and forcing President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan within a year and a second prohibiting indefinite detention. The two amendments have proved controversial in previous years. 

In an unusual procedural move, the Senate is going to vote on an amendment to the defense bill on Friday morning, after they’ve already passed the NDAA. 

The amendment from Democratic Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineAcosta defends Epstein deal, bucking calls for resignation Republican lawmakers on why they haven't read Mueller report: 'Tedious' and 'what's the point?' Schumer calls on Acosta to step down over Epstein MORE (Va.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' MORE (N.M.) would block Trump from using funding to carry out military action against Iran unless he has congressional approval. Senators say if the amendment passes it will be added to the bill retroactively. 

The Iran vote comes amid growing tensions between the United States and Tehran, and after Democrats threatened to block the defense bill until they were able to get a vote on the proposal. 

McConnell initially indicated he would not wait until after Democratic senators running for president were able to return to Washington to hold a vote. But he announced from the Senate floor that the chamber would vote on the amendment Friday and hold the vote open until everyone was able to return. 

Republicans are confident that they’ll be able to defeat the Iran measure because it will require 60 votes. With most Democrat expected to support the amendment, they would still need 13 GOP senators to attach the amendment to the defense bill. 

“I don’t think it will get 60 votes,” Inhofe told The Hill. “I think it will have all of the Democrats. Democrats are disciplined, Republicans aren’t, we know that. And we know also that there are going to be a few Republicans that will join.”

The Senate bill still needs to be reconciled with the House, which plans to take up its version of the NDAA in July.

The two bills have considerable differences, including the dollar figure. The House bill would authorize $733 billion for defense compared with the Senate’s $750 billion.

There are also several provisions in the House version deeply opposed by Republicans, including prohibitions on the deployment of submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warheads and the use of Pentagon funding for a border wall.

House Democrats are also expected to pass amendments on the floor that would protect transgender military service members and block funding for military action against Iran, two more hot-button issues likely to gum up conference negotiations.

Both versions, meanwhile, would create a space military branch in line with Trump’s desire for a Space Force. But the two versions have differences in the name and structure of the new service that will have to be ironed out.