Senate Approves Compromise on Defense Spending Bill

In this Sept. 3, 2018, file photo an American flag flies on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this Sept. 3, 2018, file photo an American flag flies on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Tuesday approved a compromise on a massive spending measure that would direct more than $670 billion toward a wave of Defense Department increases, including the largest boost to service members' pay in nearly a decade and new gains in the number of troops, equipment and weapons for the 2019 fiscal year.

The measure, which was part of a larger funding package of more than $850 billion, will fund priorities in the recently passed 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which directs policy and spending plans for the Defense Department. It was approved in a vote of 93 to 7.

The legislation, H.R. 6157, now goes to the House for approval. The bill won approval from a congressional conference committee on Thursday. If approved by both chambers, the legislation goes to the president for his signature.

"Critically, after subjecting America's all-volunteer armed forces to years of belt-tightening, this legislation will build on our recent progress in rebuilding the readiness of our military and investing more in the men and women who wear the uniform," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said ahead of Tuesday's vote.

The defense budget moves on two tracks: The annual NDAA sets policy changes and expenditures for the military and determines how the money will be spent, while the defense appropriations bill is what actually moves money to the Pentagon to support the plan. The defense spending legislation is part of a larger labor, health and human services and education spending bill.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed into law a more than $715 billion NDAA authorizing a 2.6 percent pay raise for service members, as well as new purchases of aircrafts, ships, submarines and weapons.

The legislation also includes funding for three littoral combat ships and an effort to continue payment of death gratuities for fallen service members even in cases of a government shutdown. Those death gratuities, which includes a $100,000 payment to families of the fallen service members, can be halted now when there is a shutdown.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday lauded the bill's pay raise, boosts to troop levels, funding of 13 new Navy ships, 93 F-35 aircraft, 18 C-130J aircraft, 58 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 13 V-22 aircraft and the upgrade of 135 Abrams tanks.

"It's good news, then, that Congress is nearing action on a full-year defense funding bill," Ryan said in a statement ahead of Tuesday's Senate floor vote. "It provides the resources to continue the rebuilding of our military -- a $17 billion increase that is consistent with the National Defense Authorization Act."

Ryan also praised the measure's efforts to fund research and development of new defense systems and technologies, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nuclear force modernization and the Ohio-class submarine replacement. It also funds above the president's request for cancer research, traumatic brain injury research and sexual-assault prevention, Ryan's office said.

"If enacted, this would be the first time in 10 years that the Defense Department won't operate under a continuing resolution," which is a temporary funding measure, Ryan said.

The 2019 NDAA, H.R. 5515, passed Aug. 13 and ushers through a series of new reforms, such as revamping the military's "up or out" promotion system and policies to rein in sexual misconduct and domestic abuse among the ranks.

The plan builds on the momentum to increase the size and might of the military in response to China and Russia's growing capabilities as laid out in Trump's $686 billion defense budget proposed earlier this year. The Trump request for the fiscal year included an increase of more than 15,000 active-duty troops, which lawmakers matched in the NDAA.

A two-year spending deal that lifted federal budget caps allowed the defense budget to increase to more than $715 billion. Coupled with approaching November midterm elections, lawmakers worked to pass the bills earlier than in past years.

At this pace, it's possible the defense spending bill could pass by Oct. 1, which is the start of the new fiscal year and would mark the first on-time passage of the NDAA and its funding companion bill in more than 20 years.

However, lawmakers remain on a tight clock. The House is on recess until next week, and Republican senators are racing to confirm Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh ahead of the midterms.

Without a spending measure in place by Oct. 1, lawmakers might need to pass a continuing resolution, to keep the government operating.

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