Compromise defense bill expands benefits, creates Space Force – Politico

Compromise defense bill expands benefits, creates Space Force – Politico

Capping months of drawn-out and sometimes testy negotiations, a compromise $738 billion defense policy bill unveiled Monday night includes a major expansion of military and federal worker benefits and creates a new Space Force sought by President Donald Trump.

But the final fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act excludes many top progressive national security priorities that House Democrats pushed for in their version of the bill — including limits on diverting military funding for a border wall with Mexico, protections for transgender troops, requiring congressional approval for war with Iran and withdrawing U.S. support from Yemen’s civil war.

One far-reaching provision, though, would grant 12 weeks of paid parental leave to the entire federal workforce.

For the military, troops would get a 3.1 percent pay raise — the largest in a decade.

The bill, forged by the House and Senate Armed Services committees, is the product of nearly three months of talks between Democratic and Republican congressional leaders that had lately been weighed down by issues outside the jurisdictions of the two panels. A final vote is expected in the House as early as Wednesday and later in the Senate.

The four House and Senate Armed Services chairmen and ranking members called the measure “the product of months of hard-fought, but always civil and ultimately productive, negotiations.”

“This bipartisan, bicameral agreement puts our troops and America’s security first by continuing to rebuild our military, positioning our Armed Forces to meet the next wave of threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy, reforming the business side of the Pentagon — and, most importantly, caring for our service members and their families,” Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement.

Among its provisions, the bill would repeal the “widow’s tax,” a widely unpopular offset in military survivor benefits offered by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. The provision would be phased in over three years.

The defense bill wouldn’t roll back the Feres Doctrine, a decades-old legal precedent that bars active-duty troops from suing the military for medical malpractice that House lawmakers sought to overturn. But conferees agreed to a provision that would permit the Defense secretary to allow, settle and pay malpractice claims against military health providers for the death or injury of troops.

Versions of those provisions were included by Democrats in the House-passed defense bill. Still, despite their popularity in both parties, the issues became flashpoints in the negotiations due to their projected costs. House Democrats didn’t initially propose a way to pay for the measures.

The agreement also would create a new military space service in Title 10 of federal law under the Air Force. The bill would give the Air Force secretary authority to transfer Air Force personnel to the new service. Conferees said the service will require no additional billets to minimize cost and bureaucracy.

The legislation also would create a chief of space operations for the Space Force who would report to the Air Force secretary and would be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The president has pressed for a Space Force, and his top Pentagon leaders now back the concept after initially opposing a similar bipartisan House proposal in 2017.

Both House and Senate bills proposed a new space service but differed widely on how to structure it.

The space service proved a thorny issue despite its inclusion in both bills, as some lawmakers in both parties remain skeptical that a new service — and the cost and bureaucracy it could entail — would improve the military’s burgeoning space mission.

With an eye to minimizing defections, Democratic leaders will count on those victories on benefits and some other issues to convince their members to vote this week for a final bill that doesn’t include many of their proposals incorporated into the initial House bill.

House Democrats passed their bill this summer with no Republican votes, while the Senate approved its bill with a wide bipartisan majority.

Last week, Democrats panned negotiators for dropping broad protections and cleanup measures for toxic PFAS chemicals from the talks. The final bill, however, does include military-specific provisions and would prohibit the use of firefighting foam with PFAS chemicals after October 2024.

Also, the final bill wouldn’t limit the president’s ability to tap into Pentagon coffers to fund a wall and other barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

It also excludes other provisions cited by progressive Democrats as top priorities, including congressional authorization for U.S. military action against Iran amid heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Negotiators also scrapped a House-backed provision that would have overturned the Trump administration’s more restrictive transgender troop policy.

Progressives also sought unsuccessfully to force the U.S. to cut off assistance to the Saudi-led coalition that’s intervened in Yemen’s bloody civil war. Despite bipartisan support, Trump has already vetoed a similar war powers measure.

House Democrats, led by Smith, also pressed to block the deployment of a new sea-launched, low-yield nuclear warhead — a provision bitterly opposed by GOP defense hawks that didn’t make the final cut.

But pro-arms control lawmakers did score a win of sorts with the adoption of a provision that would bar funding for one year to procure or deploy offensive ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges that violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

A similar provision was included in the House bill but was tweaked by conferees to allow for research and development funding for those systems. The U.S. withdrew from the treaty this year over Russian violations, but Democrats have warned scrapping the pact could spur a renewed arms race.

The White House, meanwhile, will be able to celebrate the establishment of a Space Force, a popular chant at Trump rallies around the country, and paid leave, which the president’s daughter, Ivanka, has promoted.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway attended the House GOP whip team meeting Monday to promote the final defense bill.

“They don’t see a grand bargain. It’s win-win for the president,” a GOP lawmaker who attended the meeting told POLITICO. “He’s going to take credit for family leave and Space Force and the top line.”

In all, the legislation would authorize $738 billion in national defense spending, aligned with a two-year budget deal struck by congressional leaders this summer. That includes $635 billion for the base Pentagon budget and $23.1 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department.

It also would authorize $71.5 billion for war operations under the Overseas Contingency Operations account and $5.3 billion in emergency disaster recovery for military bases damaged by extreme weather.

Additionally, the compromise bill would:

— Impose sanctions related to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline

— Block Turkey from taking possession of the F-35 fighter due to its acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 missile system and urge the president to sanction Turkey over the purchase

The legislation would further authorize billions for procuring military hardware, including:

— Three Arleigh Burke class destroyers, a new frigate, two additional amphibious warships and three unmanned surface vessels for the Navy

— Eight new Boeing-built F-15EX fighters for the Air Force

— Twelve more Lockheed Martin-built F-35 fighters than the administration requested


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