- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Pentagon got some needed budget clarity as the House approved two massive spending bills that included $738 billion this fiscal year for defense and the Senate easily approved a compromise defense policy bill that President Trump says he is eager to sign.

The overdue spending bill, which advanced through the House on a bipartisan 280-183 vote, provides a budget boost for the Defense Department, paring President Trump’s funding request for his new Space Force but giving the White House a freer hand to fund more of the border wall with Mexico.

The defense appropriations are contained within a pair of massive catch-all government funding bills totaling $1.3 trillion that were revealed after months of negotiations and partisan sparring Monday evening. As in 2019, the big fights centered around whether and how to fund the border wall construction, which sparked a lengthy government shutdown at this time last year.

If approved by the Senate, in a vote expected later this week, the Trump administration will receive $1.4 billion for wall construction, far below the requested $5 billion that was requested by the White House.

Appropriators approved $40 million to establish the Space Force as an eventual sixth branch of the U.S. military. That’s down from the administration’s requested $72 million, but does mark fresh progress from one of Mr. Trump’s pet initiatives.



The Pentagon will also receive a fleet of 98 new F-35 fighter jets for an estimated $9.3 billion, and the bill allocates $24 billion for 14 new Navy ships, including two amphibious warships and an aircraft carrier.

Appropriators also endorsed a 3.1% pay raise for troops, the largest boost in nearly a decade.

In addition to leaving out limits for spending on the border wall, several key Democratic policies were dropped, including a repeal of the broad 2001 presidential authority to fight the global war on terror and language to end American military backing for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war. Both policies had been included in the version of the spending bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House.

Critics of the legislation said the lack of restrictions on wall funding gives Mr. Trump “a bloated checkbook” in the controversial construction project.

Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, in a tweet said he voted against the bill because it authorizes a “leeway to take money for expanding immigrant detention … [and] a defense increase [without] restrictions on U.S. support for Saudi-led war in Yemen.”

Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, applauded the passage that came just days before the current temporary budget expires on Friday.

Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican praised the package which he said “keeps our government open, maintains our military readiness, and provides the resources to protect our country from rising threats at home and around the globe.”

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the defense policy bill that sets the legislation to stand up the Space Force, authorizes 12 weeks of paid family leave for military families, and repeals the “widow’s tax” over the course of three years that reverses a widely rejected plan that offered survivor benefits.

While the NDAA fails to include several Democratic priorities, including protections for transgender troops and restrictive language on military action against Iran, it passed the Senate on an 86-8 margin.

The 2020 NDAA drew criticism from several Republican senators, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who criticized what he said was the failure to address so-called “forever wars,” including the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

“The bill before us does not end any of our multitude of wars,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “The bill before us simply continues the status quo and throws more money around the world at conflicts we can’t even begin to fathom.”

Mr. Paul was joined by Republican Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Mike Lee of Utah, along with Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

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