The Senate on Monday approved a $700 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2018 that aims to bolster what Sen. John McCain and other proponents say are depleted military forces by supplying more troops, aircraft and ships than requested by President Trump.
The National Defense Authorization Act easily passed by an 89-8 vote despite three days of contentious Senate negotiations and is now headed to a conference committee with the House to hammer out a final bill and settle differences, such as the creation of an Air Force Space Corps.
McCain, R-Ariz., the Armed Services chairman, has argued the defense bill written by his committee is needed to shore up a military in the midst of a readiness crisis, evidenced by mishaps over the past three months that have injured and killed more than 60 troops, and facing the greatest range of threats in decades.
"My friends, for too long our nation has asked our men and women in uniform to do too much with far too little," McCain said.
The Senate bill includes $640 billion in base funding for the Defense Department and nuclear activities within the Department of Energy, as well as $60 billion for overseas combat operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The military would get more Navy ships, F-35 and F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, and troops than requested in Trump's $639 billion Defense Department budget request for 2018.
The NDAA also pumps $8.5 billion into missile defense to defend against North Korea, including adding up to 28 new interceptors in Alaska.
An amendment to the bill sponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., also sets up a showdown with the House over the creation of a Space Corps.
Their legislation prohibits the creation of any separate command to oversee space operations within the Air Force, which has also strongly opposed the idea and said it will create unneeded bureaucracy.
But members of the House Armed Services Committee have been pushing hard for the Space Corps, saying the Air Force and Defense Department are fumbling work in an increasingly important military domain, and they were able to include creation of the command in the NDAA passed by the chamber in July.
The $696 billion House version of the NDAA, led by Armed Services chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, also includes a big hike in military capability over what Trump has proposed, including more ships, aircraft and troops, but in slightly different numbers than the Senate bill.
McCain, Thornberry and the top two Democrats on the armed services committees will now convene a conference committee to negotiate a final bill over the next several months.