House Overwhelmingly Passes Defense Bill With Leave Benefits, Setting Up Confrontation with Trump
Although the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, the president has threatened to veto the must-pass bill over unrelated matters.
The House on Tuesday voted 335-78 to pass the annual defense policy bill, which includes a number of provisions for improving leave benefits for civilian federal employees, although lawmakers are preparing to come back after Christmas to vote on it again, if necessary, since President Trump has threatened to veto the legislation when it reaches his desk.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate reached agreement on the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act last week. The bill authorizes a 3% pay increase for members of the armed services and expands civilian federal employees’ access to paid leave benefits.
The legislation includes a provision making technical corrections to the paid parental leave policy included in last year’s defense policy bill. That bill granted federal employees with 12 weeks of paid leave in connection with the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, but failed to cover every federal worker.
Although federal agencies have largely operated as if the new leave benefit covers every federal employee, this year’s bill codifies that employees of the Washington, D.C., court system, Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration, as well as Title 38 medical professionals at the Veterans Affairs Department, are eligible for the benefit.
Additionally, the bill waives the normal annual cap on unused leave that can carry over from year to year, in light of difficulties surrounding taking leave during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation would allow federal employees to carry over an additional 25% of unused leave into 2021, although that extra leave cannot be included in lump sum payments that feds receive when they leave federal service.
The House vote easily constitutes a veto-proof majority and the Senate is expected to pass the bill by its own veto-proof majority before it leaves for Christmas.
The Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday formally informed Congress that Trump plans to veto the bill, citing a provision of the bill that calls for the renaming of Defense Department facilities named after Confederate military leaders.
“Over the course of United States history, these locations have taken on significance to the American story and those who have helped write it that far transcends their namesakes,” OMB wrote. “The administration respects the legacy of the millions of American servicemen and women who have served with honor at these military bases, and who, from these locations, have fought, bled and died for their country.”
Trump has also insisted that the NDAA should include a provision repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that protects internet companies from liability related to sensitive or hateful content posted by individual users. Lawmakers in both parties have rejected those calls, arguing that such a provision would not be germane to a bill focused on national security.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said before the vote Tuesday that Democratic leaders would call the House back into session after Christmas to override any veto, if necessary.
But Republicans in the chamber appeared split on whether they would continue to support the measure following a veto. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he would not support overriding the president’s veto, although House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said GOP lawmakers should ensure the bill becomes law.