House Passes $733 Billion Defense Bill, Including 3.1% Pay Raise for Troops

The U.S. Capitol building. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The U.S. Capitol building. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House passed a $733 billion defense policy bill -- $17 billion short of what the White House wanted -- following a debate in which Democrats taunted Republicans that they would be voting against a 3.1% pay raise for the military.

"You all are going to vote against the pay raise," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said to the Republican side of the House in opposing a motion to recommit the bill (H.R. 2500) in a failed Republican effort to boost the spending total to $740 billion.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-New Jersey, a former Navy helicopter pilot, said the 3.1% pay raise is "exactly what the president asked for," and the highest in 10 years.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, the House minority whip, later said on the House floor that accusing the Republicans of opposing the 3.1% pay raise was a false issue. The raise was included in Republican proposals and "was already going to happen," he said.

The final vote on the House version of the National Defense Authorization legislation was 220-197, without a single Republican voting in favor.

The Senate last month voted 86-8 to pass a $750 billion version of the NDAA, which also included the 3.1% pay raise.

The impasse over the spending total and a range of other defense issues could once again set the stage for a lengthy partisan battle to reconcile the two competing bills, which could trigger the threats of government shutdowns and continuing resolutions that plagued passage of the NDAA in years past.

Earlier this week, White House officials issued a statement saying they would advise the president to veto the $733 billion version of the bill if it reached his desk.

In addition to the overall spending level, the White House and Congressional Republicans also vehemently opposed a range of other Democratic proposals included in the bill, either in the original language or by amendment.

Several of the more left-leaning Democrats also objected to the $733 billion spending level, arguing that the defense budget for Fiscal 2020 should be limited to $700 billion.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement that the legislation "keeps America strong with vital action to improve the economic security and well-being of our service members and families, including a much-needed pay raise."

One of the key areas of contention was on Trump's redirection of military construction funds to build the southern border wall. The House bill would put limits on the president's power to redirect the funds and to deploy troops to the border.

To gain the votes needed for passage, the House leadership appealed to progressives by allowing amendments to go forward limiting the president's power to wage war against Iran and calling for a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) enacted after the 9/11 terror attacks.

One amendment, cosponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna, D-California and Matt Gaetz, D-Florida, would require Congressional approval before an attack on Iran could be launched.

A second amendment would replace the AUMF that has been used to authorize actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Syria, other regions of the Middle East and Africa.

Both amendments were attached to the House bill that passed, but similar versions of both amendments have already been rejected by the Senate.

At his Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing Thursday, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the nominee to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said in his written responses to questions that he saw no need to change or replace the current AUMF.

"The current AUMF provides the authority necessary to conduct military operations," Milley said.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, predicted that the House version of the NDAA would not survive a conference committee with the Senate.

"This bill will never become law," McCarthy said in a statement.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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