Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

House passes major defense spending and policy bill with increased pay for service members and paid family leave for federal employees.

In a historic bipartisan vote, the House on Wednesday passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report for Fiscal Year 2020. 

The bill provides a 3.1 percent pay raise for all military service members, 12 weeks of paid family leave for federal employees, and phases out and eventually eliminates the so-called “widow’s tax,” which reduces payments to surviving family members of fallen service members.

The conference report also includes a measure to make more military spouses eligible to receive funding for job training and relicensing, as a means to help them find work. 

The updated bill represents something of a victory for Democrats, who’ve long made securing paid leave for federal employees a priority. Many of those Democrats, including first-term Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), celebrated the bill’s passage 377-48 passage through the House. 

“For people in Burlington and Ocean Counties, the defense budget isn’t just something that happens in Washington, it’s something that impacts their daily lives. That’s why I’m proud to have passed significant priorities for our communities that will make a real impact for New Jersey,” Kim said in a statement

Kim represents New Jersey’s third congressional district, which is home to nearly 45,000 veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The district includes the site of the McGuire Air Force Base, also known as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and Kim was quick to point out that the service members there would be among those to benefit from the bill. 

“Our service members at the Joint Base will see a pay raise and their spouses will see more economic opportunities,” Kim said. 

The bill includes key provisions introduced by Kim, who was one of three Democratic freshman to serve on the committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

Kim secured funding for more than $40 million in federal funds for the HELIOS laser program which is expected to create dozens of jobs in Burlington County. 

He successfully included The Patriotic Employer Protection Act in the NDAA. The bill aims to support entrepreneurs serving in the National Guard and Reserve by protecting them and their employers from the uncertainty of unexpected deployments. 

Kim also added a provision requiring the Department of Defense to hold “Black Start” exercises on Joint Bases such as McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in order to ensure their preparedness for extreme weather events and cyber attacks.

The NDAA is considered “must pass” legislation, because it establishes how much money the military will receive from the federal government and sets policies for national security programs. The House passed its first version of the NDAA in July, but it took months of bicameral negotiation with the Senate to reach the new bipartisan agreement.

The conference report now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.