WASHINGTON — The massive annual defense policy package cleared Congress ahead of the holiday recess, despite protests about attaching a foreign surveillance extension and criticism that the bill did not block a Pentagon abortion policy.
U.S. House lawmakers approved the package on Thursday 310-118, under a suspension of the chamber’s rules, meaning a two-thirds majority was required.
A bloc of the most far-right representatives voted against the legislation, as did members of the House’s most progressive wing.
If signed into law, which is expected, the roughly $884 billion legislation would authorize a 5.2% pay raise for troops, approve a nuclear submarine program for the Indo-Pacific region and carry the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as FISA, until mid-April.
The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, for fiscal year 2024 authorizes the dollar amounts that will be dedicated to continuing military and nuclear operations but does not directly provide the funds. Congress has yet to pass its annual funding bills.
Direct funding for Ukraine’s war effort is also knotted up in congressional infighting over immigration policy. The NDAA would direct $300 million to Ukraine in security assistance as well as support programs for Ukrainian troops suffering post-traumatic stress disorders and brain injuries.
House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana praised the sweeping bill, saying it “will strengthen our national security against adversaries like China and Russia, and support our servicemembers by providing them with the tools necessary to continue to be the most lethal and effective fighting force in the world.”
In a nod to far-right priorities in the bill, including paring down the Pentagon’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, Johnson said, “Importantly, this legislation returns the Department of Defense’s focus back to the business of defending our nation and away from social experiments that hurt our military’s recruitment, morale, and readiness.”
Bipartisan Senate passage
The U.S. Senate passed the legislation in a bipartisan 87-13 vote Wednesday night.
“I am pleased that the Senate has come together to once again pass a strong, bipartisan defense bill. This is a dangerous moment in the world, and the NDAA makes critical progress toward meeting the threats we face,” Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said in a statement late Wednesday.
Sen. Roger Wicker, the committee’s ranking member, said the bill “should signal to China, Russia, and others that we will not accept a world where America does not have the best fighting force.”
“While I would have preferred to send the President a substantially larger proposed investment in our industrial base, he now should approve the monumental investments Congress intends to make in our servicemembers, warships, submarines, aircraft, and technology,” the Mississippi Republican said in a statement after the vote.
The vote followed a failed attempt by GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to block a controversial decision to use the defense package as a vehicle to temporarily extend FISA, which would have expired Dec. 31.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle oppose the surveillance law’s ability to scoop up communications by U.S. citizens while spying on foreign targets.
‘Best shipbuilders in the world’
Several senators praised the bill for economic activity that will be brought to their states.
Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania said $300 million was authorized for his state’s defense-related workforce and activities.
“Pennsylvania’s military installations and defense industry continue to play a key role in supporting allies like Taiwan, Ukraine, and Israel against attacks on democracy abroad,” Fetterman, a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday morning.
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia also issued a morning statement lauding the legislation’s support of Virginia’s defense and shipbuilding industries.
“The legislation also bolsters our alliances, as it includes my bipartisan bill to prevent any U.S. President from withdrawing from NATO, as well as provisions I secured to support the Australia-U.K-U.S. (AUKUS) agreement.
“Our NATO and AUKUS alliances are critical to our national security and economic growth in Hampton Roads, which is home to the only operational NATO command in the U.S. and the best shipbuilders in the world,” the Virginia Democrat said, referring to an area in Virginia with a large military presence, including Langley Air Force Base and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota on the floor Tuesday applauded the bill’s funding authorization for the B-21 bomber program, which will be located in his state at Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Senators who opposed the bill included New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, Indiana Republican Mike Braun, Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, Utah Republican Mike Lee, Wyoming Republican Cynthia Lummis, Massachusetts Democrats Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Oregon Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, Ohio Republican J.D. Vance and Vermont Democrat Peter Welch.
Hawley vehemently opposed the legislation after his amendment to compensate those exposed to residual radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project was removed from the final bill.
Hawley’s original amendment, which passed the Senate in July to be attached to the NDAA, would have opened the compensation program for St. Louis, Missouri residents and to those living in Colorado, Idaho, Guam, Montana and New Mexico, as well as expanded coverage areas in Arizona, Nevada and Utah.
While the bill followed a relatively smooth path among senators, the defense policy legislation hit opposition in the GOP-led House, where far-right lawmakers maintain their priorities were stripped from the compromise legislation.
“With this NDAA conference report, you almost feel like a parent who’s sent a child off to summer camp and they’ve come back a monster,” GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said on the floor Thursday morning.
Gaetz was among the no votes.
House Freedom Caucus members accused the bill’s negotiators of secretive, non-inclusive negotiations during which their amendments to block a Department of Defense abortion policy, ban certain transgender care for troops and completely eliminate any Pentagon diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs were nixed.
“The Swamp’s ‘compromise’ NDAA allows the DOD to use your tax dollars to fund abortion travel for servicemembers. As a proud pro-life conservative, I’ll be voting NO,” Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia posted Tuesday night on X after the Senate voted to advance the bill.
GOP Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina wrote on social media Wednesday that “The Backroom NDAA is a disaster for conservatives in so many ways.”
The Pentagon’s abortion policy gives time off and travel reimbursement for service members who seek abortions in states where it remains legal. The policy, instated after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, fueled Alabama GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s monthslong freeze on military promotions.
Clyde and Norman both opposed the NDAA Thursday morning, along with outgoing House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.
Some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who voted no included its chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington, deputy chair Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Maxwell Frost of Florida, Cori Bush of Missouri, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and retiring Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.
Policies on flags, DEI hiring remain
While some far-right House amendments are not in the final text, other conservative priorities remained, including a measure to prohibit, with some conditions negotiated by the Senate, the display of unapproved flags. Democrats protested the original language as a ban on LBGTQ+ flags.
Despite throwing out the amendment to eliminate all DEI programs and positions, negotiators landed on a hiring freeze and pay grade cap for employees on the initiatives.
The Senate receded during negotiations and also allowed a House-led amendment to remain that bans any funding for critical race theory at military service academies and during training.
Negotiators also kept a familiar conservative priority of codifying the rights of parents to review school curricula. The guarantee, usually already available to school parents, will now be codified in the NDAA for parents of schoolchildren enrolled in Department of Defense Education Activity programs.
The legislation heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. The administration had called on Congress for the bill’s “swift passage.”
Congress has passed the NDAA for 63 consecutive years. The annual defense policy package typically draws bipartisan support.
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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F12%2F14%2Fshipbuilding-bombers-military-pay-raise-congress-sends-massive-defense-bill-to-biden%2F by Ashley Murray