Armed Services chair calls defense bill 'most progressive in the history of the country' after criticism

Armed Services chair calls defense bill 'most progressive in the history of the country' after criticism
© Greg Nash

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police 40 groups call on House panel to investigate Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds MORE (D-Wash.) on Tuesday defended the compromise defense policy bill against criticism from progressives that Democrats gave up too much in negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.

“This is the most progressive defense bill in the history of the country, with Donald Trump as president and Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Smith said Tuesday in response to a question from The Hill. “I will rest on that sentence.”

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Smith was speaking at a news conference touting the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)’s inclusion of a new policy granting all federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

Aides have said Democrats secured the parental leave policy as part of a deal to agree to create President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE’s long-sought Space Force.

Smith on Tuesday also pushed back on the idea that parental leave was secured with Space Force, saying “it’s a big overstatement to say one thing was traded for another.”

"That's simply not the way it works," he said. "There are 1,377 provisions in this bill. We attempted to strike a balance between the interests of everybody."

Top Democrats have been touting the parental leave policy as a major win in the final version of the NDAA that resulted from months of negotiations with the Senate and the White House.

But several other Democratic priorities that were in the version of the NDAA that passed the House in July were stripped from the final bill.

Among the language that was jettisoned from the compromise bill: blocking Trump from using Pentagon funding on his border wall, reversing Trump’s transgender military ban, blocking Trump from taking military action against Iran, ending all U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, more broadly regulating cancer-linked “forever chemicals” called PFAS, blocking the deployment of the low-yield nuclear warhead and banning new transfers to the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Progressives immediately balked at the compromise bill.

Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanOvernight Defense: Nearly 500 former national security officials formally back Biden | 40 groups call on House panel to investigate Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds 40 groups call on House panel to investigate Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers MORE, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who voted against the original House version in July, said Monday night he would not support the compromise bill.

“At the same time that this administration has cut food stamps, Medicaid and reproductive health services from everyday Americans, this president wants to add more than a hundred billion dollars to continue endless and unauthorized wars, ban transgender troops, keep Guantanamo Bay open, allow the unchecked contamination of water supplies with polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and establish a Space Force—militarizing a previously shared space by all nations and created an unnecessary sixth branch of the military,” Pocan said in a statement. “This is the definition of government waste.”

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for president, and Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package The movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point MORE (D-Calif.) released a joint statement calling on Congress to “vote against this disastrous Pentagon authorization – a bill of astonishing moral cowardice.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Khanna (D-Calif.), who sponsored the Iran and Yemen amendments and is the first vice chair of the Progressive Caucus, argued Democrats could have gotten more of their priorities in the final NDAA despite it needing to pass the Senate and be signed by Trump.

“This NDAA was outsourced to the White House,” Khanna said. “We should have really just kept pulling for our values and let him blink.”

Khanna also rejected the idea of voting for the bill because of its inclusion of parental leave. 

“What if we had the war in Iraq tied to, ‘Well, we’re going to give you three months of paid parental leave if you’ll vote to go to war in Iraq,’” he said. “This is a horrible precedent if we’re going to say to the party that we’re going to sacrifice questions of conscious on war and peace because we do this one domestic priority.”