Congress passes defense bill that would give US a space force and federal workers parental leave for the first time

Posted at 1:27 PM, Dec 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-17 13:27:38-05

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Congress has passed an annual defense authorization bill following a vote in the Senate on Tuesday that includes a provision that creates a new space force branch of the armed services and provides all federal workers with 12 weeks of paid parental leave for the first time in American history.

The bill passed by a vote of 86-8 and the legislation now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The paid parental leave provision was added after a significant push from Democrats, who during the course of the negotiation saw an opening with Trump’s desire to see the establishment of Space Force as a branch of the US military.

In the White House push for Space Force’s inclusion, it was made clear, aides familiar with the negotiations said, that any number of Democratic priorities were potentially on the table. Over the objection of congressional Republicans, the White House agreed to the paid parental leave for federal workers in order to ensure the establishment of Space Force, the aides said.

The bill passed the House last week with a bipartisan vote of 377-48. Forty-one Democrats in the House and six Republicans opposed it, along with independent Rep. Justin Amash.

The $738 billion package also involves a 3.1% pay raise for military personnel and would repeal a long-standing offset policy that blocked some Gold Star families from receiving full survivors benefits. That law, deemed the “widow’s tax” by opponents, faced added scrutiny from survivors advocacy groups and members of Congress after some Gold Star families experienced higher tax bills in the wake of the 2017 Republican tax law.

The new paid parental leave policy applies to federal workers across the government, giving all federal employees 12 weeks of leave for both mothers and fathers of newborns, newly adopted children or foster children.

There is currently no parental leave policy for federal government employees. The United States does not have a federal parental leave policy or law that applies nationwide, either. It is the only industrialized nation that does not have one.

The bill also establishes a Space Force as a branch of the US military, housed within the Air Force. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said the final product was a compromise, but the “one thing in particular” the President wanted to secure in the bill was the Space Force provision. Inhofe noted the legislation rearranges resources within the military that are already working on space matters, rather than adding new employees and an entirely new division.

“We’ve done a good job on our space activity. One of the problems we’re faced with our allies is that both Russia and China had a space force, but we didn’t have one, because we had the Navy and the Air Force,” Inhofe said. “They were working very well together, but there could be better coordination. That’s primarily what it is.”