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Trump signs $717 billion defense policy bill into law

President Donald Trump smiles during a signing ceremony for a $716 billion defense policy bill named for Sen. John McCain, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Fort Drum, N.Y.

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 13, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday signed into law a $717 billion defense policy bill, which authorizes a wave of significant military increases, including servicemembers’ biggest pay boost in nearly a decade, higher troop levels and new equipment and weapons for the upcoming fiscal year.

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act also ushers through a series of new reforms and policy efforts, from revamping the military’s “up or out” promotion system to new policies to reign in sexual misconduct and domestic abuse among the ranks.

Trump signed the NDAA, or H.R. 5515, during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York on Monday afternoon. However, much work remains to pass companion legislation to pay for the bill’s expansive plans with that appropriations legislation stalled on Capitol Hill.

“After years of devastating cuts, we are rebuilding our military like we never have before,” Trump said after an introduction by Vice President Mike Pence at the base that houses the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. “Our bases and vital equipment were allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, …but those days are over.”

Trump’s signature marks the first on-time passage of the NDAA in 22 years with the start of the 2019 fiscal year on Oct. 1. With a two-year spending deal that lifted federal budget caps, midterm elections in the fall and a more experienced White House administration, lawmakers were eager to pass the measure earlier than in recent years.

For example, they reached a deal earlier this year to break imposed budget caps to increase defense spending limits to more than $700 billion for 2019. The move helped speed up negotiations for this year’s NDAA.

“I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to strengthening our military, as evidenced by his signing this bill,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “This action, and the large votes in both the House and Senate, confirm that overwhelming majorities of both parties can work together on behalf of the men and women who serve our nation in the Armed Forces and their families.”

The legislation was named for ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has been battling brain cancer and away from Washington since December.

“I’m humbled that my colleagues in Congress chose to designate this bill in my name,” McCain said in a statement Monday. “Serving as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and working on behalf of America's brave servicemembers has been one of the greatest honors of my life.”

The NDAA, which directs policy and spending plans for the Defense Department, authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for servicemembers, the largest increase in nine years, as well as new purchases of aircrafts, ships, submarines and weapons.

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 fiscal year included an increase of more than 15,000 active-duty troops, which lawmakers matched in the NDAA.

“This measure continues to rebuild and repair our military while making needed reforms in the Pentagon,” Thornberry said. “It takes important steps to confront the aggressive behavior of Russia, China, and others. Most of all, it helps ensure that our troops get what they need to carry out the missions they are assigned. It is now essential that we follow this bill with matching appropriations before the beginning of the fiscal year.”

On Aug. 1, the Senate passed the NDAA in an 87 to 10 floor vote. In July, the House passed the massive bill in a vote of 359 to 54. Earlier that month, a joint panel of House and Senate lawmakers reached a deal on the NDAA after weeks of negotiations and congressional hearings to craft the measure.

The bill dictates some steps towards creating a “Space Force,” but stopped short of Trump’s calls for a new military service. The White House said last week that the new service could be created by 2020 through separate legislation.

The NDAA also authorizes a November military parade that was triggered by Trump’s interests for the elaborate ceremony in Washington.

But there’s little clarity when lawmakers could reach a deal on an appropriations bill that actually funds the NDAA.

In June, the House, which is now on recess until Sept. 4, passed its defense appropriations measure, H.R. 6157, in a vote of 359 to 49. The Senate, which returns Aug. 15 from an abbreviated recess, has yet to debate the matter.

Trump also has threatened not to sign off on government spending plans if there isn’t sufficient money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This, as Republican lawmakers are directing hearings and votes on his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in the coming weeks, which could divert Capitol Hill from finishing up a NDAA funding measure on time.

Without such a spending measure in place by Oct. 1, lawmakers might need to pass a temporary budget measure, which is known as a continuing resolution, to keep the government afloat.

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter: @cgrisales
 

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