The record-setting $738 billion national defense bill signed into law before Christmas creates the Space Force proposed by President Trump, provides a pay raise for troops, 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers and the largest budget ever for the Veterans Administration plus much more. The legislation also provides significant funding for Georgia’s dozen military installations with nearly 90,000 service members plus 70,000 veterans who live here.

Veterans and their welfare are of special importance to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia who will retire at the end of this year for health reasons. Recounting actions taken to benefit veterans since he became chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs five years ago, he said that during his tenure the VA has been “fundamentally changed … to be more responsive to the veterans it serves.”

Isakson cited his landmark legislation, the VA MISSION Act, “to dramatically improve the way the VA delivers health care.” Since its enactment in 2018, health care choice has been “put in the hands of veterans and their doctors instead of bureaucrats,” Isakson said. Other key accomplishments include improving accountability and cutting the time to remove, demote or suspend VA employees on the basis of performance or misconduct; and improving the benefits claims appeals process to sharply reduce the backlog of pending cases.

“The greatness of this country is that we can count on our service members at any time and in any place to uphold the mantle of freedom,” Isakson said. “We must support them, and I am confident that the Trump administration, Senator David Perdue and Senator-designate Kelly Loeffler, who will take my seat in the Senate in January, will continue to fortify global partnerships and provide what is necessary to protect America against any threats to our security.” Thanks to the dedication and tireless work by Sen. Isakson, benefits and health care for veterans have advanced substantially in the past five years of his service as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, a laudable record of service by the Georgia senator.

The defense bill includes nearly $217 billion for the VA, same as the White House requested, an increase of 9%, significantly more than the percentage increases allotted to most other federal agencies. This is the biggest VA budget in history, following a pattern of nearly 20 years of spending increases. Included are funds for mental health services and suicide prevention outreach, two areas that have needed substantial shoring up in recent years.

With lopsided bipartisan approval, both Democrats and Republicans say the measure funds their priorities. Trump said it included everything at the top of his wish list including “Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force!” In signing the bill, the president emphasized the importance of the Space Force, the first new military service created since the Air Force was formed in 1947. He said, “American superiority in space is absolutely vital.” That is manifestly so. America must maintain its dominance and protect its interests as other nations seek to gain advantages in space. We hope the new agency will provide the impetus for keeping our country ahead in the long-running space race.

Democrats, according to news reports, agreed to fund Space Force in exchange for Republicans signing off on 12 weeks of paid leave for parents of newborns, newly adopted children or foster children. Yet little coverage was given to the efforts of Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, who had worked in behalf of such a policy for several years and in mid-December hosted a bipartisan summit of governors, business leaders and legislators at the White House with the president endorsing the compromise on paid parental leave just in time for Christmas.

There are essential national defense needs and other beneficial programs covered in the new bill, but the spending packages come with high costs, increasing the already too-high national deficit. In most cases the needs justify the costs, and as the New Year approaches, at least we can celebrate a bipartisan compromise, proving that even in the worst of political divisions, all sides can come together to get something worthwhile done.

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