NEW YORK, U.S. - On his way back to Washington after a 12-day working vacation at his golf club in New Jersey, the U.S. President Donald Trump stopped at New York, heading to the U.S. Army’s Fort Drum base to sign the annual defense spending bill.
On Monday, at the base in upstate New York, which houses the Army's 10th Mountain Division, Trump first watched an air assault demonstration by U.S. troops.
He then turned to the defense policy bill, which has been officially named ‘John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019,’ in honour of Senator John McCain R-Ariz., who is battling brain cancer.
Trump managed to sign the bill, indulge in small talk, deliver a speech and even take credit for the legislation, without once mentioning the man for whom the bill was named.
Meanwhile, the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes a top-line budget of $716 billion to cover defense spending, is a $16 billion increase in authorized funding for the Pentagon over the current year.
As part of the bill, a total of $717 billion was authorized for military funding, including pay increases for service members.
Further, $616.9 billion will be authorized for the Pentagon's base budget, $69 billion for overseas contingency operations funding and $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department.
Trump, who was joined by Vice President Pence, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the base, hailed the bill, saying, “The National Defense Authorization Act is the most significant investment in our military and our warfighters in modern history, and I am very proud to be a big, big part of it.”
He added in his 22-minute speech, “It was not very hard. You know, I went to Congress, I said let’s do it, we got to do it. We’re going to strengthen our military like never, ever before, and that’s what we did. We are going to strengthen our military like never ever before and that's what we did.”
He lauded the bill, saying it will give service members the "finest planes, and ships and tanks and missiles,” and pointed out, “We will replace aging tanks, aging planes and ships with the most advanced and lethal technology ever developed, and hopefully we’ll be so strong we’ll never have to use them.”
For the coming fiscal year, 13 new warships have been approved.
Trump added, "To survive and having that survival of our freedom it depends upon the mite of our military. And no enemy on earth can match the strength, courage and skill of the American Army and the American armed forces. Nobody's even close. They never will be."
The bill signed on Monday was the result of tough House-Senate negotiations.
Amongst the chief components of the bill are:
It authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for troops, which is the largest in nearly a decade.
It allows $7.6 billion for 77 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which remains the Pentagon's most expensive weapons system.
It authorizes $85 million for UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters, which Trump has labelled as the "most advanced helicopters in the world."
It authorizes the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, six icebreakers, and a Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
It authorizes $225.3 million for Stryker A1 combat vehicles and supports efforts to modernize the Army's armoured combat vehicles.
It adds $140 million to the Missile Defense Agency for development of critical directed energy and space sensing projects as well as hypersonic defense capabilities.
It authorizes $284 million for the Army's efforts to integrate its Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense systems.
Congress has agreed to fully funding the U.S. Air Force's new long-range stealth B-21 bomber.
Congress has also approved $1.56 billion for three littoral combat ships.
It bars the delivery of F-35 jets to Turkey - a move taken over concerns regarding Ankara's desire to buy a Russian missile defense system.
It blunts Chinese investments by strengthening the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
The bill is now set to head to Congress, which will have to pass a spending bill to fund specific priorities with the Defense Department.
The McCain snub
With the bill being named in honour of Senator McCain, who has been among Trump’s harshest Republican critics, the President drew some criticism for not mentioning McCain’s name even once or thanking him.
McCain, who is currently undergoing treatment for brain cancer, is a Vietnam War hero and POW, but Trump, who did not serve in the military himself, has locked horns with the 81-year-old Senator since his campaigning days.
At the time, Trump attacked McCain's record of service and said that he is "not a war hero" because he was captured.
Trump has since refused to apologize and frequently publicly disparages McCain, who has been one of the administration's fiercest Republican critics.
McCain, who is the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, spearheaded efforts to pass the defense spending bill in the Senate.
Earlier this month when the bill was passed, he said in a press statement, “I’m humbled that my colleagues in Congress chose to designate this bill in my name. Serving as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and working on behalf of America’s brave service members has been one of the greatest honours of my life. I’m proud that throughout my tenure, the committee has led with a spirit of comity and cooperation to provide for America’s Armed Forces.”