- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Senate on Thursday pushed through a wide-ranging $750 billion budget for the Defense Department by a 86-8 margin, giving President Trump victories on the top-line spending and on backing for his proposed Space Force, while blocking the contentious sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara goes through with a deal to buy a Russian air defense system.

The overall figure is in line with Mr. Trump’s March defense budget request and is a 4.7% boost of about $34 billion for the Defense Department compared to the fiscal 2019 budget. It would give troops their largest pay increase in a decade.

But with the Democratic-dominated House still debating its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, President Trump appears likely to take a hit on his hopes for new money for a border wall with Mexico. The Senate has allocated $3.6 billion for military construction projects for the controversial border, well below the $8.6 billion Mr. Trump requested in his initial budget proposal.

As voted on, the Senate’s legislation does not include language that addresses the heightening tensions with Iran, saving that debate for Friday. In the days leading up to the vote, the Senate fell into a bitter divide over a provision that would block any Pentagon money for Mr. Trump to start a war with Tehran unless Congress gave the green light.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer led the Senate Democrats’ argument that Mr. Trump’s “positions have been inconsistent, opaque, and sometimes even contradictory,” and said that tensions between Iran and the U.S. could rapidly escalate to a point of armed conflict without any input from Congress.

“We must assert our constitutional authority,” Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat and a lead sponsor of the Iran amendment, said in Thursday’s floor debate. “We must do so now, before though miscalculation, mistake or misjudgment, our nation finds itself in yet another endless war.”

Mr. Trump and his aides have repeatedly insisted they already have the authority for military action against Iran to protect American and allied interests in the Middle East.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell eventually agreed to hold a Friday vote on the amendment, which Republicans are expecting to fail but Democrats say could apply new pressure on the White House to moderate its course.

In a win for the administration, the Senate’s defense bill establishes a U.S. Space Force under the Air Force. Senior committee aides said that while the Space Force will have its own four-star commander and funds for preliminary needs, authorization for the new command and potential sixth branch of the military will be required and will not take effect until one year after the NDAA is passed.

Members on both sides of the aisle ultimately praised the process that produced a big bipartisan majority on final passage.

“Up to now it’s been very good,” Mr. Inhofe told The Washington Times, while adding, “the biggest problem is probably yet to come” when the House and Senate reconcile their different bills.

Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, told The Washington Times, “the process on the Senate side was a very good process.”

He said aside from holding a vote on Iran amendment which he is a co-sponsor, “we ran a good mark. … There were not big, tough controversial issues.”

Once members of Congress return from a week-long break for Independence Day, the House will vote in its NDAA, which right now only gives the administration $733 billion for FY 2020.

Despite the $17 billion difference between the two chambers, Mr. Inhofe said there is some wiggle room in the Senate’s version to agree on a lower topline figure.

Republicans on both the House and Senate have maintained that a 3% to 5% increase is necessary in order to maintain readiness and increase modernization of U.S. military forces.

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