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House passes bill to establish Space Force, parental leave for federal workers

WASHINGTON — The House passed a $738 billion defense policy bill Wednesday, a step toward establishing the Space Force and introducing parental leave for federal workers, as dozens of liberals signaled their dissatisfaction with compromises Democratic lawmakers reached by voting against the legislation.

President Donald Trump said he would sign the bill after striking a deal with House Democrats that permits the creation of the Space Force as a sixth branch of the military, one of his top priorities at the Pentagon, in exchange for extending 12 weeks of paid parental leave to more than 2 million federal workers, a victory for Democratic lawmakers. Federal workers at the moment don’t have guaranteed access to paid family leave.

The bill passed in the House in a 377-48 vote. Those who voted against it were primarily liberal Democrats who felt the compromise version of the legislation hammered out with the Republican-led Senate offered up too many concessions, including a top-line authorization that gives $22 billion more to defense than last year, plus another $5.3 billion for disaster recovery on military installations.

Known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the annual bill sets out priorities for the Pentagon and funding targets for programs. Congressional appropriators ultimately will decide how much federal money the Pentagon receives for those priorities in budget legislation. The compromise bill, having passed in the House, will face a Senate vote slated for next week.

In a tweet Wednesday before the House vote, Trump said he would sign the bill when it reaches his desk and appeared to take credit for its provision on paid parental leave, even though Democratic lawmakers pushed for that measure as a trade for the Space Force, facing down Republican opposition to the expansion of federal worker benefits.

“Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA: Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force!” Trump wrote. “Congress — don’t delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defense legislation immediately!”

The president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump has made pushing for paid family leave a central part of her formal duties at the White House.

The Republican-led Senate’s version of the bill didn’t include a provision on paid parental leave for federal workers. The provision grew out of legislation led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, which was then tacked onto the House version of the defense policy bill. Democratic lawmakers then fought for its inclusion in the compromise version of the defense policy bill with the Senate.

The bill would authorize a 3.1 percent pay raise for service members and would repeal what’s known as the “widow’s tax,” or regulations that penalize military spouses collecting benefits from the government owing to the death of their partner. It also authorizes sanctions aimed at pipe-laying ships involved in Russia’s construction of a new gas pipeline to Europe under the Baltic Sea.

Questions about whether Congress will agree to “backfill” $3.6 billion the Trump administration took from the Pentagon budget under emergency authorities for border barrier construction have been deferred to appropriators still negotiating a budget deal.
The bill expresses a “sense of Congress” that supports the people of Hong Kong in defending their rights and autonomy against China. It would authorize another $4.5 billion to continue long-running U.S. efforts to build up Afghanistan’s national security forces in their fight against the Taliban, even though U.S. officials described that effort in confidential government interviews released this week by The Washington Post as a long-running calamity.


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