House backs defense bill with pay raise, parade

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Thursday approved a $716 billion defense policy bill that would give the military a 2.6 percent pay hike, the largest in nine years.

The compromise bill weakens a bid to clamp down on the Chinese telecom giant ZTE and allows the president to waive sanctions against countries that have bought Russian weapons but want to buy U.S. military equipment.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought the waiver, saying it would help countries such as India that are seeking to “pull away from the Russian orbit.”

The waiver would not benefit Russia, Mattis said in a letter to Congress: “It will only benefit the U.S. and countries willing to pursue a security relationship with us,” including Vietnam and Indonesia.

The bill does not fund President Donald Trump’s request for a new “Space Force” as an independent military service branch, but authorizes a military parade Trump wants in Washington in November.

The bill was negotiated by House and Senate lawmakers after competing versions were approved in each chamber. It was approved, 359-54, and now goes to the Senate.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders applauded the bill’s passage and urged swift passage in the Senate.

The bill “supports the president’s request for a pay raise for our troops and rebuilds the military to deter adversaries and maintain the administration’s posture of peace through strength,” she said.

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed outrage that the revised legislation guts a provision to reinstate penalties against ZTE and restrict the Chinese company’s ability to buy U.S. component parts. ZTE almost was forced out of business after being accused of selling sensitive information to nations hostile to the U.S., namely Iran and North Korea.