House passes sweeping $638 billion defense bill

The House has passed a sweeping $638 billion defense bill imposing new punishments on military members found guilty of rape or sexual assault.

The Republican-controlled House voted 315-108 for the measure. It covers weapons, aircraft, ships and personnel.

The ongoing issue of sexual assault in the military according to Armed Services Committee Senator Tim Kaine is a “major problem.” And as explained by Kaine, because it is a stain on the military, it is a stain on the nation.

The battle in Congress results from who should investigate the assaults. And after much debate, the Senate decided to keep the investigation within the chain of command, despite pleas that this may intimidate victims from coming forward.

"The chain of command has told us for decades that they will solve this problem - and they have failed," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "If you look at the victims' descriptions of what happened to them, their assailant is usually someone senior to them, someone up the chain."

The bill does allow for a crackdown on retaliation against those who report sexual assaults, as well as a more streamlined review and appeals process.

The House version gets even tougher – including dishonorable discharges for sex offenders and a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of rape or sexual assault in a military court.

Lawmakers hope these changes will counter a political problem at the Pentagon.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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