On 11 December 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly (377-48) the $738 billion Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. A GOP summary of its provisions is here and the general take inside the Beltway is that it passed overwhelmingly, and relatively quickly in Washington terms, simply because everyone got what they wanted.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said:

“The passage of the NDAA is crucial to our collective national security, and today’s vote is the culmination of months of hard work. Today, we remind the country that despite our many policy disagreements, the House can still legislate and deliver for the American people, and in particular, the brave women and men who serve our nation in the armed services.

“The FY20 NDAA, which is more than 4,000 pages long and contains 1,249 individual provisions, will provide our men and women in uniform with the resources they need to maintain our military superiority. But our bill goes further than that – it doesn’t just provide for our service members and their families, it also delivers key wins For The People. Namely, the FY20 NDAA ends the unjust ‘widow’s tax’ and secures 12 full weeks of paid parental leave for all workers across the federal government. Thanks to our work, these policy changes will have real impacts on Americans leading real lives.

“These policies represent just two of the many significant wins the Democrats secured in the final conference report. Our Republican colleagues in the Senate would have gladly passed a ‘skinny NDAA’ containing zero Democratic priorities. That alternative bill would have none of the key policies we fought so hard for – no paid parental leave, no “widow’s tax” repeal, and nothing to address PFAS or climate change.

“Instead of giving in, Democrats fought for our priorities during the months-long conference negotiations. Ultimately, we disagreed on a few key provisions, but we found compromise on hundreds of others. That’s what makes the House Armed Services Committee different: Our bipartisan commitment to put country ahead of party in order to deliver for our service members and their families and ensure a strong national defense.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee stated:

“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. 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.”

Christopher Preble, CATO Institute Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy studies characterized the legislation as irresponsible, noting:

“There’s much to hate in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2020 …. but I’m generally annoyed by the top line – $738 billion – at a time when the annual federal budget deficit surpasses $1 trillion. The utter failure of elected officials in both parties to come to grips with our fiscal catastrophe, and align our overly ambitious strategy with our obvious resource constraints is frustrating in the extreme. If this NDAA passes, which seems all but certain, it will be yet another sign of how U.S. foreign policy is writing checks that Americans dare not cash.”