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Senate passes $738B defense bill, including Space Force

By
Sommer Brokaw
The Senate passed a $738 billion defense bill Tuesday that President Donald Trump is expected to sign. File Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI
The Senate passed a $738 billion defense bill Tuesday that President Donald Trump is expected to sign. File Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The Senate on Tuesday passed a $738 billion defense bill in a compromise after months of negotiations.

President Donald Trump has said he would sign the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by an 86-8 vote, after Senate and House Armed Services leaders took nearly three months to strike the deal.

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The bill authorizes Pentagon spending and lays out policy guidelines.

Spending includes $635 billion for the base Pentagon budget, $23.1 billion for Energy Department nuclear weapons programs, $71.5 billion for war operations and $5.3 billion in emergency disaster recovery for military bases.

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The bill also approves a 3.1 percent troop pay raise, which is the largest in a decade.

Defense purchases were also boosted in the bill, which authorized over $9 billion to buy 90 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters, 12 more than the Pentagon requested. The purchase of eight upgraded F-15EX fighters that Boeing built were also approved. And the measure authorized $23 billion to build 12 Navy ships, including three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two Virginia-class attack submarines, a new frigate and two amphibious ships.

The bill would establish a Space Force that Trump has hailed in a compromise with Democrats to grant federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Under the agreement, the Space Force would be housed under the Air Force Department and be led by a chief of space operations who would become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but report to the Air Force secretary.

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The legislation also includes a provision that would phase out an unpopular offset in military survivor benefits, known as the "widow's tax," over three years.

Trump's signature would mark the 59th consecutive year defense policy legislation has been signed into law, but Republican and Democratic leaders said this year has been one of the most contentious negotiations.

"This year, the process of getting to a final conference report was certainly tougher than most years," Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said. "There were some moments we weren't sure we were going to be able to get to one ... It took a few months of hard-fought negotiations, but the end result was getting a bill that we could be proud of."

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Some people across both parties complained there was too much compromise.

Among them, some progressive lawmakers complained that the bill omitted including limits on siphoning military money for the border wall, which was put into a separate appropriations process, transgender troops protections and limits on Trump's authority to wage war on Iran and end U.S. involvement in Yemen's civil war.

"The time is long overdue for us to take a hard look at military spending, including the 'war on terror,' and whether it makes sense to spend trillion more on endless wars, wars that often cause more problems than they solve," Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., a Democratic presidential candidate, who didn't vote Tuesday, wrote in a Washington Post editorial Monday.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. has criticized granting federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave, referring to it as part of "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."

Still, Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said that the legislation was a good deal.

"It is the art of compromise," Reed said.

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