Monday, November 20, 2017

House, Senate reach agreement on defense bill

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WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Tuesday on a $633 billion defense bill that would tighten sanctions on Iran, increase security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya and press the military on possible options to end the bloodshed in Syria.

The sweeping policy bill responds to new threats and upheaval around the globe while still providing billions for the war in Afghanistan.

The bill would authorize $528 billion for the Defense Department's base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department, and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan.

The top Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services committees announced completion of the bill at a news conference during which they highlighted the rare instance of bipartisanship in a divided Congress.

"It can, in fact, be done," said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House panel.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said the opportunity to "represent our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is the reason why we work together in a bipartisan way to accomplish this bill."

Election year politics and changes in society shaped the final measure. Negotiators kept a Senate-passed provision sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that expands health insurance coverage for military women and their dependents who decide to have abortions in cases of rape and incest.

Previously, health coverage applied only to abortions in cases in which the life of the mother was endangered.

Democrats argued throughout the election year that Republicans were waging a "war on women" over contraception and abortion, a charge the GOP denied. Democrats and President Barack Obama held a clear edge with female voters, which led to soul-searching within the GOP.

Negotiators jettisoned a House provision that would have banned gay marriage on military installations.

The measure includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel and provides money for new ships, aircraft and other weapons. The White House had threatened a veto, but negotiators made a number of changes to address the Obama administration's concerns.

Reacting to the violence in Syria, the bill would require the Pentagon to report to Congress on possible military options.

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