Senate passes $700 billion defense policy bill, backing Trump call for steep increase in military spending

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U.S. service members walk off a helicopter on the runway at Camp Bost in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

The Senate passed a roughly $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act on Monday but failed to include an amendment that would have eliminated the automatic spending cuts under the controversial sequester mechanism.

The NDAA, which sets forth the Pentagon's budget and major programs for the next fiscal year, does authorize an additional $8.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency to strengthen homeland, regional and space missile defense. That authorization is $630 million above the Trump administration's request.

The final vote was 89 to eight. It required a simple majority to pass the Senate.

The 2018 national defense bill also authorizes just over $141 billion for military personnel costs, including costs of pay, bonuses, benefits and moving expenses. It provides a 2.1 percent increase in pay for troops.

The legislation also includes money to increase troop numbers above the White House's request, adding thousands of new members to the Army and Marine Corps as well as boosting reserve totals.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters
President Donald Trump

Also in the final version for the defense bill is a provision that bars the Department of Defense from using security software products from Russian-based Kaspersky Labs.

In all, more than 300 amendments were proposed for the Senate's NDAA.

The House passed its version of the 2018 defense authorization bill (or H.R. 2810) in July, so Monday's passage means the House-Senate conference committee will need to resolve differences before sending the legislation to President Donald Trump.

The final Senate version of the 1,215-page bill includes a base budget of $640 billion and another $60 billion for the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations war funding, which includes money for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations.

One of those who voted against the NDAA was Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Budget Committee. He released a statement saying he voted against it because the bill "exceeds the current budget caps by nearly $83 billion." Corker also was critical of the Overseas Contingency Operations funds, which he said have "been repeatedly abused to fund normal operations at the Departments of Defense and State in order to avoid exceeding statutory spending caps."

However, the Senate failed to vote on repealing the controversial sequestration in Monday's session due to a lack of quorum. Some Republicans charged it was hampered by deal making Democrats plan to use later on the overall budget.

"Whenever a Democratic senator says they are worried about the state of our military, that they are horrified at the kind of cuts that we're making, that they can't sleep at night because of what we're doing to troops in the field — don't believe them," Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Monday on the Senate floor when there was an insufficient quorum to take up the sequestration repeal measure he proposed.

Added Cotton, "My amendment was the last best chance in years to stop this bust-and-boom cycle of budgeting. But what do Democrats do — they threw it away."

Also excluded from the Senate's NDAA was an amendment that would have slowed Trump's ban on transgenders serving in the military. An amendment with "Buy America" provisions also wasn't included in the final defense bill and a measure that would have restricted defense spending on medical research also wasn't in the final version of the legislation.

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