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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Senate votes to pass $768 billion defense budget

The annual bill authorizing defense spending was voted in early Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Party lines, and more ambitious reforms, fell to the wayside Wednesday as the Senate adopted the $768 billion defense authorization bill after months of debate over what the massive funding package could include.

“This bill is critically important to the service members who make immense sacrifices to keep our nation safe," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor of the Senate this morning.

Passed by a vote of 89–10, the bill that will keep the military and Department of Defense funded for the year heads now to President Joe Biden's desk for signature. It passed through the House last week.

This year's version of the annual legislation includes reforms to how the military handles sexual assault cases as well as funding focused on combatting military threats in the Indo-Pacific, but the bill has drawn frustration from some politicians whose amendments were cut from the plan to garner more bipartisan support.

The legislation includes reforms to the military justice system, making sexual harassment a crime and establishing a special prosecutor in charge of overseeing sexual assault, murder, kidnapping and child pornography cases — charges that were previously overseen by military commanders.

But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York wanted reforms to go further, saying special prosecutors should be empowered to convene court hearings rather than vesting that right in the hands of military commanders who may influence when and if charges against service members move forward.

"As sexual assault survivor advocates warned would happen for months, House and Senate Armed Services leadership have gutted our bipartisan military justice reforms behind closed doors, doing a disservice to our service members and our democracy," the Democrat said in a statement.

These proposed reforms did not end up in the final bill as lawmakers spent months trying to reach a bipartisan deal, along with a plethora of other amendments on the cutting-room floor, including one effort to address racial disparities in the military justice system and another that would have required women to enlist in the draft.

The approved version of the legislation keeps the military funded and also emphasizes focusing defense resources on combatting Chinese and Russian aggression.

The bill allocates $7.1 billion to the Pacific Deterrence Initiative focused on addressing Chinese militarization and $4 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative focussed on combatting Russian hostility in Europe.

The Department of Energy is also budgeted $27.8 for nuclear weapons research.

An all-around pay increase of 2.7% for service members is also included in the legislation, which focuses on the personal lives of service members, adding 12 weeks of parental leave for all members of the military.

While lawmakers celebrated that the parties were able to finally reach an agreement to pass the legislation, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, emphasized that lawmakers still have to agree to an appropriations bill that would pay for the policies the legislation lays out.

"Let’s be honest and go beyond the rhetoric, tell the American people about what we are doing and what we are not. We can stand here on the Senate floor, we can do it back home, and declare our unwavering support for our troops and their families, claim to support a strong national defense, but until we put our money where our mouth is and provide the money we say we support, then those words ring hollow," Leahy said.

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Categories / Financial, Government, National

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