FederalImmigration & BorderIssuesTaxes & SpendingDefense Bill Passes in the House with Border and Military Implications for Texas

The conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act passed Wednesday night with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Texas delegation.
December 12, 2019
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On Wednesday, the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 passed by a 377-48 vote in the House, effectively allocating $738 billion in national defense funding.

After heading to conference at the end of September with the task of reconciling the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate versions of the bill, the FY20 NDAA is intended to build upon the John S. McCain NDAA from FY19 by authorizing and funding the country’s national defense and military priorities. 

“This was a challenging year, starting with two different bills that were far apart. But, for the 59th consecutive year, we were able to come to an agreement for our men and women in uniform and their families,” retiring Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX-13), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said of this year’s bill. 

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX-13) ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee (Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

He continued by saying, “It is important for the men and women who serve to know that, despite differences on other issues, we can come together to support them.” 

The NDAA for FY20 includes a number of key provisions, including prioritizing innovation, modernization, and strategies to combat threats posed by Russia, China, and North Korea.

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Additionally, the bill breaks new ground by establishing the U.S. Space Force as the sixth component of the Armed Services of the United States under the Air Force and a Chief of Space Operations (CSO) to serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In Texas, specifically, according to Thornberry, the bill authorizes $10.5 billion for Air Force operations, training, and maintenance, with the expectation that the additional resources will work to support military bases, like Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls.

Through a three year phase-out, the bill also repeals the decades-old “widows tax,” a policy that deducts survivor compensation provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs from compensation provided by Survivor Benefit Plans funded by the Department of Defense. 

In repealing this statute, the FY20 NDAA aims to benefit surviving members of military families by ensuring they receive full survivor benefits from both departments.

When discussing further additions and modifications to the FY20 bill, retiring Texas Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX-11) touted the pay-raise granted to service members, describing it as the “largest pay raise in a decade.”

“This year’s NDAA delivers the funding and support our service members desperately need… We were also able to provide a well-deserved 3.1 percent pay raise for our troops,” Conaway said.

Beyond Thornberry and Conaway, other Texas representatives on the House Armed Services Committee include Reps. Filemon Vela (D-TX-34) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16). 

Escobar also issued a statement of praise for the new bill and the ways it will benefit Texas saying, “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am proud to have worked to craft and support the NDAA under the new Democratic majority – a bill that includes key priorities for El Paso and Fort Bliss, delivers for our service members and their families, and authorizes the funding needed for a strong, smart national defense strategy.”

Notably, all members of the Texas delegation, except Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01), voted in favor of the legislation.

Staff for Rep. Gohmert attributed his vote against the FY20 NDAA to the late hour the bill was finalized and the very short time frame given to lawmakers to review the lengthy legislation, which totals more than 3,000 pages.

As it pertains to Texas, the FY20 NDAA specifically identifies illegal narcotic trafficking as a transnational threat and provides $945 million for counter-narcotic activities.

This threat identification comes less than a week after President Trump announced his decision not to designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), despite declaring his intentions to do so at the end of November. 

The new NDAA provides an analysis of the impact of border wall construction and the potential effects it could have on the volume of illegal drugs coming across the border.

In September, a Capitol Hill source who wished to remain anonymous told The Texan that committee Republicans were likely to push Democrats about military construction funding that was diverted for border security initiatives.

Up from $716 billion last year to $738 billion this year, the NDAA allocates an additional $22 billion overall for national defense.

Additionally, the FY20 NDAA provides $71.5 billion for overseas contingency operations (a technically off-budget account ostensibly used for the War on Terror) compared to $69 billion in FY19, with a base budget up from $639.1 billion to $658.4 billion.

All of this comes in the context of a larger budget picture in which federal debt has surpassed $23 trillion, amounting to nearly $70,000 per person.

President Trump is expected to sign the NDAA when it reaches his desk. 

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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.