The bill passed in the House on a 377-48 vote. Those who voted against it were primarily liberal Democrats who felt the compromise version of the legislation hammered out with the Republican-led Senate offered up too many concessions, including a top-line authorization that gives $22 billion more to defense than last year, plus another $5.3 billion for disaster recovery on military installations.
Known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the annual bill sets out priorities for the Pentagon and funding targets for programs. Congressional appropriators ultimately will decide how much federal money the Pentagon receives for those priorities in budget legislation. The compromise bill, having passed in the House, will face a Senate vote slated for next week.
In a tweet Wednesday before the House vote, Trump appeared to take credit for the provision on paid parental leave, even though Democratic lawmakers pushed for that measure as a trade for the Space Force, facing down Republican opposition to the expansion of federal worker benefits.
“Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA: Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force!” Trump wrote. “Congress — don’t delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defense legislation immediately!”
The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump has made pushing for paid family leave a central part of her formal duties at the White House.
The Senate’s version of the bill didn’t include a provision on paid parental leave for federal workers. The provision grew out of legislation led by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, which was then tacked on to the House version of the defense policy bill. Democratic lawmakers then fought for its inclusion in the compromise version of the defense policy bill with the Senate.
The bill authorizes a 3.1 percent pay raise for service members and repeals what’s known as the “widow’s tax,” or regulations that penalize military spouses collecting benefits from the government owing to the death of their partner. It also authorizes sanctions aimed at pipe-laying ships involved in Russia’s construction of a new gas pipeline to Europe under the Baltic Sea.
Questions about whether Congress will agree to “backfill” $3.6 billion the Trump administration took from the Pentagon budget under emergency authorities for border barrier construction have been deferred to appropriators still negotiating a budget deal.
The bill expresses a “sense of Congress” that supports the people of Hong Kong in defending their rights and autonomy against China. It authorizes another $4.5 billion to continue long-running U.S. efforts to build up Afghanistan’s national security forces in their fight against the Taliban, even though U.S. officials described that effort in confidential government interviews released this week by The Washington Post as a long-
The legislation also gives the secretary of defense the power to pay personal injury or death claims by service members owing to medical malpractice at military facilities — but stops short of repealing a judicial precedent known as the Feres doctrine that has long prevented active-duty personnel injured during military service from suing the government.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, rejected criticism from within his party that the Democrats gave up too much during the negotiations, and noted that the bill brings paid family leave to millions of federal workers and repeals the “widow’s tax,” two measures he said Republicans fought during the talks. He called the legislation the “most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”
Still, Democratic lawmakers had included many provisions in the House version of the bill that didn’t make it into the compromise legislation.
Among them were Democratic initiatives to overturn restrictions on transgender troops serving in the military, prohibit the deployment of new low-yield nuclear weapons, restrict Trump from waging war against Iran without congressional sign-off, and end the Pentagon’s backing for Saudi Arabia’s war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Some lawmakers also had hoped to see more-extensive requirements for the Pentagon to deal with PFAS contamination of groundwater and drinking water on military installations. The bill phases out the use of PFAS, a group of man-made chemicals, in firefighting foams. The Pentagon is still conducting a health impact study on the chemicals.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, who voted against the bill, said in a statement ahead of the vote that the legislation authorized a $131 billion increase in annual defense spending since Trump took office, even as his administration cuts food stamps, Medicaid and reproductive-health services.
“This is the definition of government waste,” Pocan said. “The President has made it clear that he serves at the pleasure of defense contractors, not the American public. It’s time we have a national conversation on the endless increases in defense spending that have gone unchecked for far too long.”
Pocan hit out at the Space Force in particular, saying Trump was “militarizing a previously shared space by all nations and creating an unnecessary sixth branch of the military.”
More than 30 liberal organizations, including antinuclear groups, banded together to denounce the legislation as a “blank check” for endless wars. The organizations said the compromise legislation “has been so severely stripped of vital House-passed provisions essential to keeping the administration in check that it no longer represents a compromise, but a near complete capitulation.”
Smith rejected such arguments in a statement before Wednesday’s vote.
“Throughout the negotiations I failed in one way: I was unable to turn President Trump, Leader [Mitch] McConnell, and Chairman [of the Senate Armed Services Committee James M.] Inhofe into Democrats and convince them to suddenly accept all of the provisions they despise,” he said. “Nonetheless, we have accomplished more with this bill than anyone ever thought possible given the realities of a Trump White House and a Republican-controlled Senate, and we should be proud of that.”
Smith said he would continue to fight for the provisions that didn’t make it into the compromise bill, “hopefully at some point with a Senate and a President who better reflects the values of our country.”
Among the no votes were mostly liberal Democrats, including the four members of the self-styled “Squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) — as well as some committee chairs, such as Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.). A handful of mostly libertarian Republicans also voted no.
Nonetheless, the final vote actually reflected a stronger endorsement of the defense bill than the House has given the annual measure since Trump took office. The GOP was in charge of the House during the first two years of Trump’s presidency.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (Tex.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said the passage of the annual bill for the 59th consecutive year amid political challenges showed men and women in uniform that “despite differences on other issues, we can come together to support them.”
Some Democrats championed the inclusion of the paid-leave provision as a critical victory.
“If this agreement is signed into law, it will be a tremendous victory for the more than 2.1 million employees across the country,” Maloney said Tuesday. “Parents finally will be able to have a baby without worrying about their paychecks suddenly coming to a halt.”
She said the legislation was “not perfect” because the Senate refused to approve provisions she had initially proposed providing paid leave for federal workers for medical reasons.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the inclusion of paid family leave for federal employees represented a victory for all workers because it would help push more employers in the right direction across the United States.
“Expanding access to paid family leave helps the health and economic well-being of individuals who have it and strengthens the ability of employers to retain their workers,” Reed said in a statement.