The dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington

Senate sends Biden big defense bill that addresses military sexual assault

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress sent President Joe Biden a $768.2 billion defense bill on Wednesday that makes landmark changes to the way the military handles sexual assaults, keeps women out of the draft and lays the groundwork for a new war memorial on the National Mall.

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 China from entering the U.S. That measure also is now headed toward final approval and Biden’s desk.

The evenly divided Senate approved the defense bill Wednesday on a robust 88-11 vote.

The legislation includes a 2.7 percent pay raise for both military servicemembers and the civilian Defense Department workforce, and authorizes $75.3 million for the operation of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It also authorizes an $9.9 billion for defense needs outside the bill’s traditional jurisdiction, bringing the overall price tag to $777 billion.

The new war memorial would honor those who served in the Global War on Terrorism, launched in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

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.

Those senators voting against the bill Wednesday included six Democrats, three Republicans and one independent.