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Mixed-gender Marines at boot camp and base construction included in $738 billion defense budget

A female student at Infantry Training Battalion buddy carries another female student during the movement-under-fire portion of the Combat Fitness Test at Marine Corps Base Camp Geiger, N.C., Sept. 26, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chelsea Flowers Anderson)

The 2020 defense policy bill the House of Representatives passed Wednesday includes a pay raise for service members, a repeal of the so-called “widow’s tax” and mandates that the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot integrate women by 2027.

It also also includes a provision for paid parental leave for federal workers and the creation of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the military.

It is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump, who said on Twitter Wednesday that “all of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA,” or National Defense Authorization Act.

Area representatives pointed to several aspects of the bill as wins for the San Diego region, including almost $400 million for local base construction projects, stronger military housing oversight and 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers after a birth, adoption or fostering of a child.

Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, pointed to $128 million in military construction at Camp Pendleton as items he championed.

“This funding … will help ensure that our service members have the resources and support they need to defend our country,” Levin said in a statement. Camp Pendleton is in Levin’s district.

The bill includes a $72 million mess hall, almost $20 million for dental and ambulatory clinics and about $40 million for a new consolidated information center for I Marine Expeditionary Force.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, pointed to the soon-to-be phased-out “widows tax” as a key provision in the bill. The so-called tax was applied to certain survivors of veterans and active duty service members in instances of military service-related deaths.

“The widow’s tax fix will ensure surviving spouses can keep the full benefits they earned and not have to worry about financial hardship after suffering an unimaginable loss,” Peters said in a statement. “Overall, this NDAA delivers big, bipartisan wins to the 143,000 active military personnel in the San Diego region and their families.”

Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said she was disappointed that her provision to address food insecurity in military families was struck from the final version of the bill. A “basic needs allowance” was passed by the House in July but was dropped in the Wednesday’s conference report, which was the result of Senate and House negotiations.

“It’s disappointing the Senate chose to ignore the military families who are struggling to put food on the table,” Davis said in a statement. “What does it say about us as a nation when we can’t come together to take care of those who fight to keep us safe?”

The allowance would have fixed what advocates say is a loophole in the way military housing allowance — which is not counted as income for tax purposes — is counted as income for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. That disqualifies low-ranking service members with families from the SNAP program.

The bill also mandates that MCRD San Diego — the Marine Corps’ West Coast boot camp — integrate women Marines into its training companies by 2027.

A Marine official not authorized to comment on the bill said it came as no surprise and that the Marine Corps would follow the law.

Right now, women who join the Marines attend boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.

The new act also establishes a Space Force, a priority for Trump. The Space Force will be an armed force within the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps exists inside the Navy Department.

The Space Force will have its own commander, the Chief of Space Operations, who will become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It will include members currently in the Air Force Space Command.

Levin said the bill is an example of bipartisanship at a time when the House is in the midst of impeaching Trump. Levin said Thursday that, despite political differences, it is important to get things done.

“We’ve got to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Levin told the Union-Tribune Thursday. “I was elected to represent the district and prioritize (its) needs first. Nothing is perfect in Washington, but on balance, I think it was an extraordinary bipartisan win.”

The NDAA is a policy bill and has yet to be funded via an appropriations bill.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune