Congress passes $700B defense bill, sends to Trump’s desk

(CNN) — The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 by a voice vote on Thursday, sending the nearly $700 billion defense policy bill to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

A bipartisan compromise that was passed by the House on Tuesday after a series of congressional negotiations, the annual bill would authorize nearly approximately $626.4 billion in base budget authority and roughly $65.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations.

“I am proud that the Senate has passed the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act, which will provide our Armed Forces with the resources, training, and equipment they need to keep us safe,” Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. John McCain said in a statement on Thursday.

This year’s bill authorizes a major hike in military spending and exceeds the $54 billion defense budget increase requested by President Donald Trump for 2018 that aimed for more aircraft and ships.

It fully authorizes a pay increase for service members, increased missile defense, and adds additional ships and aircraft.

“The bill fully funds the 2.4% pay raise our troops are entitled to under law while blocking the President’s ability to reduce troop pay,” according to the bill summary provided to CNN by senior aides from both House and Senate committees earlier this month.

The NDAA that has now been passed by both houses of Congress authorizes funding for a wide variety of additional military hardware, including 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters across the service branches — 20 more than requested by President Donald Trump’s initial budget — and three additional Littoral Combat Ships.

It also “adds $4.4 billion above the President’s initial budget request to meet critical missile defense needs” — authorizing up to 28 additional ground-based Interceptors and “requiring the Missile Defense Agency to develop a space-based sensor layer for ballistic missile defense,” according to the summary.

However, the bill sets defense spending well above the $549 billion cap under the Budget Control Act and Senate Democrats have vowed to block major increases to defense spending without equal increases for domestic programs.

That fight will occur later this year over the defense appropriations bill, which is a separate piece of legislation that allocates spending for the Pentagon.

“The overwhelming, bipartisan support for this defense budget should serve as a reminder of the troubling state of our military today — and an acknowledgment that the Budget Control Act-level of defense spending is insufficient and unacceptable,” McCain said.

Despite support from House Armed Services Committee leaders — including chairman Mac Thornberry — the 2018 fiscal year NDAA does not include the proposal for a new Space Corps military branch under the umbrella of the Air Force. Though the bill does contain language directing further long-term study of the issue, according to senior staff for both armed service committees, who briefed reporters on the contents of the bill earlier this month.

The proposal, which was included in the House’s initial National Defense Authorization Act, would have set up a Space Corps in the mold of the Marine Corps, which is a separate military branch that’s housed within the Navy.

But the idea was opposed by Pentagon leaders and the White House, who argued the idea was premature and needed more study.

Negotiators did include a series of management and procedural changes to the existing Air Force space programs in an effort to “begin fixing the broken national security space enterprise,” according to a summary of the bill.

Incorporating the work of several of the lawmakers behind the House’s Space Corps plan, the changes are meant to streamline Air Force acquisition authorities, eliminate burdensome red tape, empower a single accountable organization for space forces within the Air Force and place renewed emphasis on the organization and management of space in the Department of Defense.

The bill also looks to hold the Deputy Secretary of Defense responsible for the full and faithful execution of these improvements by requiring oversight by a federally funded research and development corporation that is not affiliated with the Air Force.

A contract will require the deputy secretary to “provide Congress with a road map to establish a separate military department responsible for national security space activities of the DoD,” according to the summary.