Lawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space Force deal

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House and Senate negotiators on Monday released an agreement for the massive annual defense policy bill that would give federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave in exchange for creating President Trump’s long-sought Space Force.

The $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) covers everything from how many planes and ships the military can buy to reforming privatized military housing.

News broke Friday night that this year’s bill — the result of months of negotiation between the Democratic-led House, Republican-led Senate and the White House — also includes a historic deal to provide paid parental leave to all federal employees.

“This conference report is the product of months of hard-fought, but always civil and ultimately productive, negotiations,” the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees said in a joint statement Monday.

“The NDAA remains one of the few authorizations bills that Congress passes year after year,” they added. “That is because both houses of Congress and both parties, recognize its importance and work together to support the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, and to provide them with the resources, equipment, training and policy needed to protect our nation.”

The House is expected to vote as soon as Wednesday on the compromise bill.

Lawmakers have officially been negotiating this year’s NDAA since September, though staffers and key lawmakers started talking behind the scenes after the House passed its version in July. The Senate version passed in June.

For months, negotiators said the top issue holding up talks was Trump’s border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The House bill had included several provisions restricting the use of Pentagon funding for the wall and the department’s ability to transfer money between accounts.

The Senate’s version did not include those restrictions and would have backfilled $3.6 billion in military construction funding previously taken for the wall.

Ultimately, negotiators decided to leave border wall questions to the appropriations process, which is ongoing.

“Conferees in both parties intend to continue monitoring border support missions and assessing the impact on military readiness, but deferred final decisions on border security support to the FY20 Appropriations process,” a summary released by the committees said.

Also jettisoned were Democratic-championed provisions to regulate cancer-linked “forever chemicals” known as PFAS that have contaminated the water at several hundred military sites.

The House-passed version of the NDAA would have forced the cleanup of PFAS under the Superfund law and would have directed the Environmental Protection Agency to set a maximum contaminant level.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) previously said Republicans refused to sign onto the compromise bill if those provisions were included.

The bill does include a ban on the Pentagon’s use of firefighting foam with PFAS.

Also eliminated from the final version were House-passed provisions to reverse Trump’s transgender military ban, block Trump from taking military action against Iran and withdraw U.S. military support from the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

But Democrats did secure a major win in the final bill with the parental leave policy. The House-passed version of the NDAA would have created a broader family leave policy, but top Democrats cheered the inclusion of the parental leave deal.

“I am glad that the NDAA conferees have agreed to include twelve weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees starting in October of next year,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement Monday. “While I believe federal employees should be extended full paid family and medical leave benefits, paid parental leave represents a significant first step toward that goal.”

In exchange for the parental leave policy, Democrats agreed to create Trump’s Space Force.

Both the House and Senate had versions of a space military service in their bills, but neither mirrored the administration’s original proposal. The House version would have created a Space Corps, while the Senate version would have created something it called Space Force without rewriting the U.S. code that would formally make it a new military branch.

The compromise bill would officially create a Space Force in U.S. code. The branch would be housed in the Department of the Air Force in a structure similar to the Marine Corps’ relationship to the Department of the Navy. Space Force would be led by the chief of space operations, who would report directly to the Secretary of the Air Force and become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The bill would also create the new positions of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, who would be Senate-confirmed, and assistant secretary of Defense for space policy.

Despite the parental leave-for-Space Force deal, House Democratic leaders could lose votes from progressives when the bill comes for a vote based on what was left out.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who sponsored the Iran and Yemen provisions that were taken out, will vote against the bill, his staff confirmed Monday.

“Congress must vote against this disastrous Pentagon authorization – a bill of astonishing moral cowardice,” Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for president, said in a joint statement. “Congress should have used this National Defense Authorization Act to stop our endless wars. Instead, this bill does nothing to rein in out-of-control military spending, prevent unconstitutional war against Iran, limit the poisoning of Americans’ drinking water, or end the obscenity of innocent children in Yemen being killed by U.S. bombs.”

Additionally, in a November letter, nearly 70 Democrats threatened to vote against the bill if it excluded the PFAS provisions.

In an apparent effort to assuage their concerns, Hoyer announced Monday the House would take up a separate PFAS bill in January. 

“Americans deserve action to address these harmful pollutants and the peace of mind that the water they drink is safe,” Hoyer said in a statement. “In light of the exclusion of key PFAS amendments from the NDAA, I will bring the PFAS Action Act to the House Floor for a vote when the House reconvenes in January.”

Tags Adam Smith Bernie Sanders Donald Trump National Defense Authorization Act Parental leave PFAS Ro Khanna Space force Steny Hoyer
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