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The Senate on Wednesday easily cleared and sent to President Donald Trump a compromise $717 billion defense policy bill aimed at building up the military and blunting Chinese foreign investment and telecommunications technology.
The final vote on the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act was 87-10. The president is expected to sign it.
Next, the Senate turns to legislation to fund the Defense Department, which will likely be packaged with an annual Labor-HHS-Education spending bill to attract bipartisan support.
The final defense policy bill is the product of brisk talks between leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, who are finishing their work in historic fashion. If the NDAA is signed soon, as expected, it would be the first time in more than two decades a defense policy bill has become law before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.
The bill continues Republican defense hawks’ to build up the military, which they contend has degraded under years of budget caps and a lack of emphasis during the Obama administration.
"It is what we have to do to defend America," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has managed the bill for Senate Republicans. "After all, the No. 1 thing we should be doing around here is defending America.
“We’re going to restore what we have lost, and it’s all happening in this bill,” he added.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis hailed the blowout vote, saying the bill’s historically quick passage "demonstrated the deep and abiding bipartisan support our military enjoys."
"It is now our duty to implement these policies responsibly and ensure a culture of performance and accountability," he said in a statement.
In all, the bill would authorize a $717 billion national defense budget topline, including $616.9 billion for the base Pentagon budget and $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department. Another extra $69 billion would be authorized to fund U.S. war efforts under the Overseas Contingency Operations account.
The legislation is named for Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has been at home in Arizona since late last year battling brain cancer. Since taking over the panel in 2015, McCain has advocated boosting the defense budget and, more recently, is one of the few outspoken Republican critics of Trump’s conduct of national security and foreign policy.
In a statement, McCain said he was "humbled" that his colleagues named the bill after him and praised the legislation and the overwhelming bipartisan support for it.
"This year’s NDAA represents an important opportunity to implement an effective approach to confront a growing array of threats around the world," the senator said. "The administration’s National Defense Strategy outlined a framework for identifying and prioritizing these threats. Through the NDAA, Congress is fulfilling its duty to provide America’s service members the resources and tools they need to succeed."
The compromise bill includes provisions aimed at cracking down on Chinese influence, including a governmentwide ban on procuring equipment or services from the Chinese telecommunications firms ZTE and Huawei, whose technologies have been cited as cybersecurity risks.
But the measure doesn’t include a bipartisan provision, originally included in the Senate version of the bill, to reinstate sanctions against ZTE and undo a deal the company recently cut with the Commerce Department.
While popular in both parties, the White House staunchly opposed undoing the ZTE deal, which included a $1 billion fine, changes to its executive leadership and embedding a compliance team.
Ahead of the vote, supporters of reinstating ZTE sanctions criticized their omission in the final bill.
"A fine, when you’re backed by the Chinese government, a multibillion-dollar fine is nothing," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who opposed the final bill.
The measure also includes a bipartisan package aimed at beefing up the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews acquisitions and mergers involving foreign companies that may have national security implications.
Defense hawks have called for an expansion of CFIUS to blunt China’s access to sensitive U.S. technology, and Mattis urged lawmakers to include the crackdown in the defense bill.
It would also bar the delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey until a report is issued on Turkey’s behavior, including an assessment of its participation in the F-35 program as well as the risks that would be posed by the country’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
Notably, the legislation would also authorize a 2.6 percent troop pay raise, the largest in nearly a decade.
The final defense bill would also boost the size of the Navy and the ranks of the military services by 15,600 active-duty troops, matching the Pentagon’s personnel request. And lawmakers added two extra littoral combat ships and a new aircraft carrier to the Navy’s shipbuilding request for a total of 13 new Navy warships in the coming fiscal year.