WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed a 2020 defense spending bill that formally establishes the Space Force, the sixth and newest division of the U.S. military.
Passed by a vote of 377-48, the bill funds the Department of Defense at $738 billion, which is a $22 billion increase from 2019. The bill also raises spending for military salaries by 3.1% and strengthens the oversight of military housing by providing military tenants with a bill of rights.
In addition, the bill nixes the widow’s tax – stipulations that inhibit military spouses from receiving their full survivor benefits.
Democrats were able to tack on a provision providing federal employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave, extending the break to more than just Department of Defense employees.
The bill also provides that polyfluoroalkyl chemical substances will no longer be used on American military bases. The chemicals have been linked to degenerative diseases.
Debate on the House floor seemed to reflect the bipartisan consensus of the bill, the reception of which was positive. Many members during the debate spoke of the pride they felt from working on the bill in a bipartisan way.
Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, said the process was not easy for Democrats or Republicans but members from both sides agreed on about 95% of the issues being negotiated. The two parties were most at odds on the issue of oversight of Pentagon spending and defense efforts, he said.
The Democrats wanted to express their concern with U.S. military involvement in Yemen.
“We want to make sure we are not supporting them in a way that is contrary to our national values,” Smith said.
Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif, who authored the provision that would have ended U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia – an ally country embroiled in the Yemen conflict – said it was “Orwellian” to call the bill progressive.
One of the few members to rise in opposition, Khanna said that when former President Barack Obama left the office, the U.S. defense spending budget totaled $618 billion. The budget proposed by President Donald Trump was $120 billion more than this, he observed.
“We can’t give standing ovations for going backwards,” he said. “My question is when are we going to listen to the American people? When are we going to start following our Article One authorities?”
Smith, addressing Khanna’s claims, said it was “dishonest” to tell the American people that any provision within this bill would end this conflict.
“There was nothing in the House bill or any bill that would have ended the war in Yemen,” Smith said. “We need to work hard to bring a peaceful solution. Being dishonest to the American public doesn’t accomplish that.”
Representative Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, moderated the Republican conversation during the House debate, saying the bill was “good for the troops and good for national security.” The bill focused on people, he said, noting the 3.1% spending increase for military families.
Representative Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said it was essential for the U.S. to establish a Space Force, in order to protect defenseless American satellites from enemy disruption. Cooper, who chairs the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said the relentless pursuit of electronic disruption had been ongoing since 2002.
“We need to establish a space force to keep GPS, ATMs and Y-O-U safe,” he said.
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