Senate on track to pass $700 billion defense policy bill

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday overwhelmingly approved a sweeping policy bill that would pump $700 billion into the military, putting the US armed forces on track for a budget greater than at any time during the decade-plus wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senators passed the bill by an 89-to-8 vote Monday. The measure authorizes $700 billion in military spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, expands US missile defenses in response to North Korea’s hostility, and refuses to allow excess military bases to be closed.

Both Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey supported the bill.


The measure defies a number of White House objections, but President Trump hasn’t threatened to veto it. The bill helps him honor a pledge to boost military spending by tens of billions of dollars.

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Senator John McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman battling an aggressive type of brain cancer, and other national security hawks have insisted the military branches are at risk of losing their edge in combat without a dramatic influx of money to repair shortfalls in training and equipment.

McCain has guided the bill toward passage over the last week as he railed against Washington gridlock and political gamesmanship.

But McCain, Republican of Arizona, couldn’t quell disputes among his colleagues over several contentious amendments that were blocked from votes.

Among them was a proposal by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, that would have protected transgender service members from being kicked out of the armed forces.


Gillibrand along with McCain seek to achieve the same goal through separate legislation they introduced late last week. The bill also is supported by Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel, and Collins.

Another amendment, from Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, would have prevented the government from detaining indefinitely US citizens apprehended on American soil who are suspected of supporting a terrorist group.

Approved by the Armed Services Committee by a vote of 27 to 0 in late June, the Senate bill would provide $640 billion for core Pentagon operations, such as buying weapons and paying troops, and another $60 billion for wartime missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

Trump’s budget request sought $603 billion for basic functions and $65 billion for overseas missions.

With North Korea’s nuclear program a clear threat to the United States and its allies, the bill would provide $8.5 billion to strengthen US missile and defense systems. That’s $630 million more than the Trump administration sought for those programs, according to a committee analysis.


North Korea last week conducted its longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile, firing an intermediate-range weapon over US ally Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean. The launch signaled both defiance of its rivals and a significant technological advance.

The bill requires the Defense Department to deploy up to 14 additional ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, that will expand to 58 the number of interceptors designed to destroy incoming warheads.