WASHINGTON - Congress and the White House moved closer to a showdown on Monday when the Senate approved a defense bill that would block the president's plan to save the Chinese telecom ZTE.
The Senate voted 85 to 10 to approve its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $716 billion in spending on military personnel and hardware, construction projects and other defense programs.
But the provision that has sparked the most debate - and provoked the ire of the White House - is language tucked into the bill last week stopping the Trump administration's deal with ZTE.
Administration officials announced two weeks ago they would lift a crippling ban on U.S. companies doing business with ZTE and instead impose a $1 billion penalty on the firm. The ban had been put in place in retaliation for ZTE violating U.S. sanctions against exporting to Iran and North Korea.
President Donald Trump sought the deal to lift the ban and impose the penalty after a personal request from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The decision infuriated a bipartisan group of senators led by Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who warned that ZTE is a threat to national security.
Their amendment would not only block the deal, it also would ban U.S. government agencies from buying or leasing telecom equipment and services from ZTE and another Chinese telecom firm, Huawei. The government also would be prohibited from using grants and loans to subsidize the two companies or their affiliates.
The issue will likely be resolved in a conference committee between the Senate and the House, which passed its version of the defense bill before the ZTE deal had been reached.
Besides the ZTE language, the Senate defense bill contains several other provisions intended to discourage further aggression by China and Russia. The legislation calls for a report on China's military and coercive activities in the South China Sea and authorizes the National Command Authority to take action to disrupt ongoing cyberattacks by Russia.
In addition, the bill contains a 2.6 percent pay raise for members of the Armed Services, the largest in a decade. It authorizes $7.6 billion for 75 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and $23.1 billion to build 10 battleships and speed up funding for several future ships.
The legislation doesn't actually provide any money for the military. It's a blueprint that merely authorizes spending on various programs and policies. Actual appropriations are made through separate legislation, but lawmakers often closely follow the priorities spelled out under the authorization bill.
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