- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2019

President Trump is trumpeting a string of big victories in the massive compromise defense policy bill working its way through Congress, as liberal Democrats lament a host of priorities that have been cut from the legislation.

The final version of the National Defense Authorization Act gives the president a freer hand on Iran and Saudi Arabia and on ways to fund the southern border wall.

The Senate is expected to pass the annual defense policy bill this week, and the White House said Mr. Trump is enthusiastically waiting to sign it into law.

In a memo to fellow Republicans just after leading defense lawmakers announced they concluded their negotiations and settled on a final bill last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, offered a checklist of the “progressive agenda halted,” including the most significant losses for liberal Democrats.

“No restrictions on border/wall authorities, No restrictions on arms sales, No [Guantanamo prison] restrictions, No transgender policy changes … No limit on POTUS authority to pressure Iran,” the memo said.

Republicans also claimed victory for dropped language on repeal of the 2002 congressional authorization for the war on terror, sanctions on Russia and funding to clean PFAS — “forever chemicals” that have been found in tap water on military bases across the country and deemed unsafe.

Despite the celebratory tone, Mr. Trump and his Republican allies on the Hill did not walk away with many tangible wins on their biggest items. The real funding battles will likely be punted to congressional appropriators.

“The victory that I see for Republicans is mainly on avoiding the worst possible outcome,” said Frederico Bartels, a defense budget and policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation.

The House Democratic bill, he said, included restrictive provisions on wall funding, climate change and nuclear weapons policy.

One measure of the relative success on both sides was that liberal Democrats complained the loudest about the final compromise.

Among those coming out against the bill, despite widespread projections that it will pass the Senate by a healthy margin, were Democratic presidential candidates Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“Astonishing moral cowardice” was how Mr. Sanders described the bill in a joint statement with Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, who led the charge to limit Mr. Trump’s authorities to use military action against Iran — a provision that did not make it in the final NDAA.

A handful of liberals promised to oppose the bill, which sets a $738 billion defense budget, after nearly squashing it this summer over issues with the increased top figure.

“The Pentagon’s budget has been too large for too long,” Ms. Warren tweeted. She said she cannot support a bill that is a “Christmas present to giant defense contractors [and] undermines our values and security.”

Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, staunchly defended the bill. He called it “the most progressive defense bill in the history of the country.”

But he also acknowledged that the House negotiators played a difficult hand dealing with Senate Republicans and President Trump.

“To those who say that this bill isn’t enough, I could not disagree more,” Mr. Smith said in a statement just minutes before the House vote. “We are delivering more for families across this country than anyone even conceived of going into this year.”

He said he and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, “fought the entire time until the very end.”

Mr. Smith touted victories including authorization of 12 weeks of paid family leave for service members and the repeal of a “widow’s tax” for surviving spouses of military personnel. The final $738 billion authorization is down from the $750 billion that the White House requested.

But analysts said Mr. Trump scored some major policy wins on balance.

“These were empty gestures,” said Giselle Donnelley, a defense and national security resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “There was no earthly way that pretty much any of these provisions were going to be made into law.

“I don’t think [the Democrats] got any victories. … The fact that the progressive wing of the party sort of disrupted the defense bill process is at best an apparent victory,” Ms. Donnelley said.

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