- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a highly anticipated bipartisan compromise of the massive $738 billion 2020 defense authorization bill, breaking a legislative logjam and dealing with dozens of knotty security and policy decisions on the very same day House Democrats were bringing two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

The wide-ranging bill, in addition to authorizing a major spending boost for the Pentagon, touches on a variety of items and issues, from greenlighting Mr. Trump’s prized Space Force, boosting military pay, and giving a major sign of support for NATO to approving more military aid to Ukraine and turning back an effort to limit the president’s authority to wage war with Iran.

The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) also attempts to fix the so-called “widow’s tax” for surviving spouses of military personnel and marked a bipartisan breakthrough in legislating in the midst of the impeachment drama. It was a particular test for the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House, as lawmakers struggled to pass a traditionally nonpartisan bill on time for the 59th consecutive year.

Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, praised the compromise version. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the legislation Wednesday afternoon and hope to have the measure to the president’s desk before Dec. 20.

“Obstruction and stalemate have brought us to the eleventh hour,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor. “I hope that now that we’re here, Democrats will be able to set aside the impeachment parade long enough to get the people’s business finally finished.”

But critics, including many liberal Democrats who could vote against the final bill, say the NDAA was a missed opportunity that failed to include protections for transgender troops, spending curbs on the construction of the Mexico border wall, or language to mandate demanding President Trump get congressional approval for any potential war with Iran.

Rep. Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat and co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus noted a lack of restrictions on Guantanamo Bay prison and various war powers included in the legislation as reasons he will not give his support.

“It’s time we have a national conversation on the endless increases in defense spending that have gone unchecked for far too long,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this year, progressive Democrats vowed to not support the House version of the bill that gave a topline budget number of $733 billion for defense — a number they argued was too high.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont Democrat, and Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, joined forces in disavowing the legislation that omits a provision that would have required the president to get explicit congressional authorization for military action against Iran, nor does it call for an end to U.S. participation in the Saudi-led bombings of Yemen.

But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat, declared Tuesday afternoon that the final version is “the most progressive defense bill in the history of the country, with Donald Trump as president.”

Mr. Smith rejected the notion that Democrats and White House negotiators made a “trade” to greenlight the establishment of a new military space agency sought by Mr. Trump in exchange for approving 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees.

“We’re not trading widgets here,” he joked. “We’re focused on policy. … It’s a big overstatement to say one thing was traded for another.”

Although creating a sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces will take several years, the NDAA establishes the Space Force as a defined group under the Air Force and creates a “chief of space operations” who will report directly to the secretary of the Air Force and become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The development was welcomed by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. The Air Force is “reviewing the draft legislation and look forward to moving out smartly once legislation is passed by the Congress and signed by the president,” she said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide