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Congressional lawmakers and the White House are on the verge of reaching a sweeping agreement that would extend 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal workers in exchange for making Space Force the sixth branch of the U.S military, according to four people with knowledge of the tentative deal.

The deal is part of a defense authorization bill that is expected to pass this month. If consummated, the agreement could mark one of biggest deals President Donald Trump has cut with Congress. It would secure an expansion of benefits for federal workers, something Democrats have long sought, in exchange for a realignment of the U.S. military that Trump has sought to secure as part of his legacy.

Multiple people close to the negotiations stressed any final package must still be approved, and Trump has been known to change his mind even when negotiations reach a final stage.

Still, some top White House officials were already celebrating the possible addition of a new federal paid leave policy.

"As the country's largest employer, the United States Government must lead by example," Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and one of his top advisers, said in a statement. "After 3 years of relentless advocacy, the passage of the [defense authorization measure] will secure Paid Parental Leave for ALL federal employees. This will mark a HUGE step forward towards making paid leave a reality for all Americans. This new policy represents another incredible win for millions of hard-working American families courtesy of President Trump!"

The parental leave news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the delicate negotiations.

One Democratic congressional aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the parties are "nearing agreement on a final deal." The package could be voted on as early as this week, the aide said.

If it is approved, the extension of paid family leave to federal workers would represent a major benefit to more than 2 million federal civilian workers, who are only eligible for unpaid leave under federal law.

It would mark a reversal of sorts for the White House, which has sought to strip pay and benefits from federal workers since Trump took office in 2017. Instead, it would mark one of the biggest extensions of a new work benefit for the federal workforce in recent history.

Space Force, a new branch of service, would largely be carved out of the Air Force, but also remain part of the Air Force Department, in similar fashion to how the Marine Corps is part of the Navy Department.

The news comes after months of negotiations between House Democrats and the White House over the defense package.

The Pentagon has already reestablished a Space Command that will be headed by a four-star general. But the Space Force, if approved, would stand up an organization to train and equip specialized forces whose mission would be to accelerate the country's response to militarization of space.

The force would be tasked with things like surveillance and protecting U.S. satellites from foreign attacks.

"It's really down to two issues: Space Force, which the president wants and which my caucus is concerned about, and paid family leave," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Calif., told Bloomberg News in an interview last month, when asked about the spending negotiations. Smith added, "The White House has made clear they won't sign a bill unless it has the Space Force in it."

Information for this article was contributed by Dan Lamothe, Lisa Rein, and Missy Ryan of The Washington Post.

A Section on 12/08/2019

Print Headline: Deal said to be near on adding Space Force

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