Congress Sends Biden $768B Defense Bill With Plans for New War on Terror Memorial in D.C.

After an 88-11 bipartisan Senate vote Wednesday passing the bill, the $768.2 billion defense bill will be sent to President Joe Biden. It includes the beginnings of plans for a war on terror memorial and changes how the military handles sexual assault cases.

The bill contains proposals for three sites along the National Mall for the construction of a Global War on Terror Memorial, to honor soldiers who have served in the wars started in response to the 9/11 attacks.

It also includes $75.3 million to operate the Armed Forces Retirement Home facilities in Washington, D.C. and Gulfport, Mississippi and a 2.7 percent pay raise for service members and Defense Department staff.

The 11 no votes came from six Democrats, three Republicans and one Independent.

The bill was held in the Senate as several measures were debated, including the changes to how the military handles sexual assault cases.

Public pressure to change how the reports are handled has risen in recent years as reports of sexual assault and rape in the military rose 13 percent in 2018. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the no votes, wanted the amendment to include more significant changes.

In the version that was approved, the military will use independent prosecutors to review and prosecute sexual assault cases, taking responsibility away from commanding officers who typically handled them.

Gillibrand wanted the military to have no authority over the prosecution so no high-ranking officers could potentially influence cases, and she called the removal of her amendment a "disservice to our service members and our democracy," according to The Associated Press.

Senate, Mitch McConnell, Defense Spending Bill
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks to the Senate Chamber, Wednesday in Washington. The Senate approved a $768 billion defense spending bill Wednesday, sending it to President Joe Biden next. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

The annual bill, which has passed both the House and Senate every year for decades without fail, nevertheless was delayed in the Senate by various disputes, including a separate effort to halt goods produced by forced Uyghur labor in Chinafrom entering the U.S.

It also authorizes $9.9 billion for defense needs outside the bill's traditional jurisdiction, bringing the overall price tag to $777 billion.

The Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, issued a joint statement praising passage, a rare moment of comity in the divided Congress.

"This bill sends a clear message to our allies — that the United States remains a reliable, credible partner — and to our adversaries — that the U.S. military is prepared and fully able to defend our interests around the world," Inhofe said.

Reed said the nation faces "an enormous range of security challenges, and it is more important than ever that we provide our military men and women with the support they need to keep Americans safe."

Senators from both parties have described the wide-ranging challenges facing the nation, including the troubling withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and ongoing competition with China, as well as the need to shore up alliances with allies around the globe.

Additional funds were authorized for a Ukraine security initiative, according to Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. They said at least $75 million would be available for lethal assistance as the Ukrainian government faces Russian aggression.

The final product also scrapped a provision to have women register for the draft, which was opposed by many conservative Republican lawmakers.

Inhofe noted that the legislation also "prevents service members from being dishonorably discharged for refusing the coronavirus vaccine — in the nick of time too," referring to the first discharges this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Senate, Joe Biden, Defense Spending Bill
U.S. President Joe Biden departs Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House and walks to the residence on Wednesday in Washington, DC. The Senate approved Wednesday a $768 billion defense spending bill, sending it to Biden next. Drew Angerer/Getty Images