Senate sends $738B defense bill to Trump’s desk
The Senate passed a mammoth defense bill on Tuesday, sending it to President Trump’s desk for his signature.
Senators voted 86-8 to approve the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation cleared the House last week.
The $738 billion bill — which authorizes spending and lays out policy guidelines for the Pentagon — includes a high-profile deal that grants federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave in exchange for creating Trump’s “Space Force.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) touted the measure ahead of the vote on Tuesday, noting it was the 59th year in a row that Congress has passed the defense bill.
“We’ll finally put this vital legislation on the president’s desk. I look forward to voting to pass the NDAA today by another overwhelming bipartisan vote for our service members and the critical missions they carry out,” McConnell said.
Creation of a Space Force was a top goal for the White House and Republicans. Under the final agreement, it would be housed under the Department of the Air Force and would be led by a chief of space operations who would become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but report to the secretary of the Air Force.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) called it “the president’s big deal,” though he noted that he had “some reluctance at first” in supporting it.
“It will help protect space and ensure America’s dominance in this warfighting domain for years to come,” Inhofe said. “China and Russia have their own space dominance … and just the fact that we don’t have one is something that made people believe we didn’t have an interest in the Space Force.”
But the trade off for paid parental leave — and the large tab — earned the defense policy bill backlash from fiscal conservatives in the Senate.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued that the bill included “bad compromises” that had “nothing to do with the national defense.”
“The dirty little secret in Washington is that there’s actually too much compromise,” Paul said. “We’re going to have paid leave for everybody, but we’re going to borrow the money from China.”
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) also raised a point of order against the defense bill, arguing that it violated budget rules. Senators rejected his motion on Tuesday, and moved the bill toward a final vote.
“Unfortunately CBO tell us that this bill will significantly add to our debt in the near and long term,” Enzi, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said on Tuesday, referring to the Congressional Budget Office.
Despite opposition from a handful of senators and kvetches with some provisions within the bill, the NDAA was widely expected to pass. It overcame a procedural hurdle on Monday night in a 76-6 vote.
Trump has pledged that he will sign the legislation “immediately” once it reaches his desk.
“Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA: Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force! Congress – don’t delay this anymore!” he tweeted last week.
The bill was caught for months in negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers, raising the prospect that Congress might not be able to pass the defense legislation for the first time in nearly 60 years. Inhofe, as a backup, had introduced a “skinny” NDAA, though it likely would not have been able to pass the House.
The major sticking point was provisions related to Trump’s border wall. Ultimately, negotiators decided to leave out wall-related provisions, kicking the issue to the separate appropriations process.
Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, noted that there were “many difficult issues” to be worked out, but touted the legislation as a good deal.
“It is the art of compromise,” he added.
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