US lawmakers green light space force

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 11 2019 07:51 AM

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is seen wearing a Space Force hat at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida, US, November 29, 2019. Tom Brenner, Reuters

WASHINGTON - The United States is getting a new space force along with $738 billion in military spending under an agreement backed by lawmakers on Tuesday that fulfills a priority of President Donald Trump.

The 2020 spending in the National Defense Authorization Act is a jump from the $716 billion authorized last year, and will go to pay for a wide range of military activities.

It will also create a space-based sixth branch of the military -- a priority of Trump's -- after the army, air force, navy, Marine Corps and coast guard.

The bill has won the approval of Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate armed services committees, making its passage in Congress likely.

Democrats agreed to approve the measure in exchange for bipartisan agreement on paid paternal leave for federal employees, following months of negotiations.

Under the deal, 12 weeks of paid leave would be extended to 2.1 million civilian federal employees who give birth or adopt, and would mark a rare example of consensus in the highly polarized political environment.

The military spending bill, meanwhile, which Congress must pass each year, allocates $635 billion to the Pentagon and another $23.1 billion to the Department of Energy for the US nuclear arsenal's maintenance and fuel.

Operations in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Somalia get $71.5 billion, while the measure also pays for a 3.1 percent increase in the salaries of military personnel, their highest in a decade.

It also gives $5.3 billion in "emergency disaster recovery" for military bases in Florida and North Carolina damaged in hurricanes Florence and Michael last year.

That amount was much less than the $9.2 billion requested by the White House, which wanted to devote a portion of the emergency funding to a wall on the Mexican border that Trump has said is necessary to curb illegal immigration.

A controversial Trump campaign promise, the border wall has proven hugely divisive and will likely be fought over in future budget bills.

Elsewhere in the bill lawmakers have inserted provisions controlling the use of Pentagon funds including a ban on reducing the number of troops in South Korea, delivering F-35 advanced stealth warplanes to Turkey and buying rail cars or buses from China.