The Senate passed a record-setting $738 billion defense bill Tuesday with a strong bipartisan showing, readying for President Trump’s signature a measure creating a Space Force as the sixth branch of the military and guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers.
The measure also takes a stand on several foreign policy matters, including sanctions against ships involved in Russia’s efforts to build a new gas pipeline to Europe, as well as against banks that conduct business with North Korea. It also prohibits Turkey from participating in the F-35 program as long as it holds on to a Russian-made missile system, and expresses a “sense of Congress” that the people of Hong Kong should be supported in defending their autonomy from China.
But it stopped short of taking decisive steps to end funding and other U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, a provision that would have gained the measure some additional support. Democrats also lost out on their effort to prohibit the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons, a omission that Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned just before Tuesday’s vote could “increase the risk of miscalculation with dire consequences.” But he and most other Democrats voted for the measure, calling it “the art of compromise,” as Reed put it.
“At the end of the day, we have the best military in the world because of our people,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Tuesday. “We take care of them, and that is what this bill is all about.”
In addition to the provision guaranteeing paid family leave, the bill would establish a 3.1 percent pay raise for service members, while removing a tax penalty for military spouses who collect government benefits after the death of a partner. It also includes provisions that would improve military housing conditions. And it would authorize $5.3 billion for disaster recovery, along with $4.5 billion to continue efforts to build up Afghanistan’s national security forces in their fight against the Taliban.
It does not, however, include an initiative from the House’s original defense bill to overturn Trump’s restrictions on transgender troops.
Trump cheered on the defense bill as it made its way through the House last week by a vote of 377 to 48. But the Senate’s vote this week is largely overshadowed by a concurrent last-minute dash to pass budget bills and the House’s expected vote to impeach the president.
Most of the naysayers in the House were liberal Democrats who thought that there were too many concessions to the GOP in the bill and that it was too expensive: The bill comes in at more than $22 billion more than last year’s defense measure. In the Senate, the votes against the defense bill were split evenly between the parties. Four of the five senators running for president missed the vote; of those, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have declared their strong opposition to the measure.