WASHINGTON: The US Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly authorized $700 billion in national defense spending for next year, a substantial increase over Donald Trump’s request, and sent the measure to the president for his signature.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 is a negotiated compromise between the two chambers of Congress. The Senate passed it Thursday on a unanimous voice vote, two days after it cleared the House on a vote of 356 to 70.
The bill is some $26 billion above Trump’s initial military budget requests, and about 15 percent higher than the authorization in 2016, the last full year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
It provides for $626 billion in base budget requirements, $66 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, or warfighting, and an additional $8 billion for other defense activities.
Increased spending is allocated for new F-35 fighter jets, ships and M1 Abrams tanks, military pay is raised by 2.4 percent and $4.9 billion is reserved for Afghanistan security forces, including a program integrating women into the country’s national defense.
It also authorizes $12.3 billion for the Missile Defense Agency to bolster homeland, regional, and space missile defenses, including the expansion of ground-based interceptors and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which has been recently deployed in South Korea.
The figure is substantially more than Trump’s baseline missile defense request, at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea over its testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.
Lawmakers including Senator John McCain, a defense hawk who routinely berates administrations for not spending enough to improve defense readiness, praised the bill’s passage as a sign Congress was eager to rebuild military strength.
McCain said he hoped Trump would sign the measure and “acknowledge that this is the level of defense spending necessary to meet current threats, prepare for the challenges of an increasingly dangerous world, and keep faith with our men and women in uniform.”