The Senate on August 1 passed the final version of the $717 billion fiscal year 2019 defense policy bill, sending the bill to the president’s desk with full funding for many of the service’s major program requests and setting up debate on a decision to cut tougher penalties against Chinese telecommunication company ZTE.
Senators voted 87-10 to approve the conferenced version of the FY ‘19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes provisions to fully fund Army vehicle and artillery modernization efforts, additional ships for the Navy and support for the Air Force’s light attack program.
“I am very pleased that we were able to pass the conference report with a bipartisan vote. I think it represents the quality of the work that was done by my colleagues, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Congressman [Mac] Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House armed services committee and also Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.),” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top SASC democrat, said on the floor following the bill’s passage.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was among the 10 ‘no’ votes on the conference report, and prior voting led the floor debate on the contested decision to remove a provision from the Senate’s original vision of the bill banning and reimposing sanctions against Chinese telecommunications company ZTE.
“I don’t want to vote against it. I don’t like it. But I just think China’s threat is so extraordinary it rises to that level,” Rubio told sister publication Defense Daily, regarding his first vote against the NDAA during his time in the Senate. “I don’t think there should be any Chinese telecommunications companies operating in the U.S. They all pose a systemic risk. Every single one of them.”
Rubio was a co-author of a bipartisan amendment, along with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), that would have banned ZTE from buying U.S.-made components following President Trump’s deal with the telecom company allowing the firm to continue conducting business pending payment of a billion-dollar fine.
Intelligence community officials have previously raised concerns that ZTE software technology could be used to create backdoors allowing Chinese government officials to conduct intellectual property theft operations and potentially gain access to sensitive government and military information.
HASC leadership testified before the House Rules Committee on July 24 that including the Senate provision would mean having to take $1 billion out the NDAA, and therefore it was not included.
Both Rubio and Van Hollen told sister publication Defense Daily that the HASC testimony was not valid reasoning for deciding against including the ZTE ban in the final version the NDAA.
“That’s crazy. That’s really dumb. Well, first of all, that’s not real money. That money was never there before. It’s one-year money too. It’s not even recurring so it can’t be programmized. It has to be used at one time,” Rubio said. “Basically what they were saying was China bribed us a billion dollars to allow them to keep stealing stuff from us. That’s pretty cheap.”
The conference report still includes language forbidding federal agencies from using ZTE products.
“Oh, come on. That’s just covering up the decision to take [the penalties] out. The administration was strongly against [the Senate ZTE provision], and, unfortunately, neither the House or Senate Republican leadership was willing to stand up and fight for the Senate provision,” Van Hollen said.
Thornberry, Smith, Inhofe and Reed led conference negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers which concluded on July 23.
House and Senate negotiators settled major differences between the two bills, including cutting the Air Force’s JSTARS fleet retirement program, halting transfers of the F-35 to Turkey pending a review of the Pentagon’s defense relationship with the country and setting course for DoD’s first cyber warfare policy and calls on the Pentagon to provider greater transparency on its massive cloud computing efforts.
“[This bill] fully funds the military services’ end strength requests for fiscal year 2019. We are going to bring our troops, particularly the Army, up to the desired strength of our military leaders,” Reed said.
The conference report calls for the Army to receive full funding for its Abrams tank, AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter programs as well as targeted investments for its artillery modernization efforts and program to add active protection systems on its combat vehicles.
The bill also authorizes the Navy to fund three new Littoral Combat Ships, more ship-to-shore connectors and a cable repair ship. The Air Force would also receive improved support for its O-AX light attack aircraft effort.
The House passed the NDAA conference report by a 359-54 vote on July 26.
“I am grateful for the strong commitment of members on both sides of the aisle to pass this year’s NDAA in record time. Together, they have demonstrated the deep and abiding bipartisan support our military enjoys,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said in a statement. “It is now our duty to implement these policies responsibly and ensure a culture of performance and accountability.”