Washington — The House passed a defense policy bill Thursday that authorizes the largest pay increase for troops in more than two decades, but also leaves behind many of the policy priorities demanded by social conservatives, who work for in an unusually divisive debate in what has traditionally been a strong bipartisan effort.
Lawmakers negotiated a final bill for months after each chamber passedin July. Some of the priorities championed by social conservatives were a no-go for Democrats, so negotiators dropped them from the final product to get it to the finish line.
The bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 310 to 118 in one of the chamber’s final acts before lawmakers leave for their holiday recess. The Senate voted to approve the measure Wednesday night by a vote of 87 to 13. It now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
Notably, the bill does not include language blocking theor restricting gender-affirming health care for transgender service members and dependents. Republicans prevailed, however, winning some concessions on diversity and military integration training. For example, the bill freezes hiring for such training until a full accounting of programming and costs is completed and reported to Congress.
The bill sets out basic Pentagon policy that lawmakers will try to fund through a follow-up appropriations bill. Lawmakers were keen to emphasize how the bill calls for a 5.2% increase in service member pay, the largest increase in more than 20 years. The bill authorizes $886 billion for national defense programs for the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1, about 3% more than last year.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the bill would ensure “the American military remains state of the art at all times around the world.”
The NDAA extension to FISA
The bill also includes a short-term extension of aaimed at preventing terrorism and catching spies. But the program has detractors on both sides of the political aisle who view it as a threat to the privacy of ordinary Americans. Some House Republicans resented the extension, which was designed to buy more time to reach a compromise.
The extension, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, isto collect without a warrant the communications of non-Americans located abroad in order to gather foreign intelligence.
US officials say the tool, which was first authorized in 2008 and has been renewed several times since then, is crucial to disrupting terror attacks, cyber intrusions and other threats to national security. It has produced vital intelligence that the US relies on for specific operations, such as last year’s killing of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
But the administration’s efforts to secure reauthorization of the program have met strong bipartisan pushback. Democrats like Sen. Oregon’s Ron Wyden, a longtime advocate of civil liberties, reached out to former President Donald Trump’s Republican supporters to demand better privacy protections for Americans and proposed a series of competing bill.
Unsuccessfully sought by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to keep the extension on the defense bill. He argued that the extension would likely mean no reform of the surveillance program next year.
“That means that once again intelligence agencies that ignore constraints on their power will go unaddressed and go unpunished, and the warrantless surveillance of Americans in violation of the Bill of Rights will continue,” Paul said.
Enough opposition developed within GOP ranks that House Speaker Mike Johnson was forced to tee up the defense policy bill for a vote through a process normally reserved for non-controversial legislation. Under that process, at least two-thirds of the House is required to pass the bill, but going that route avoids the prospect of a small number of Republicans blocking it with a vote on the procedure.
While such a process eased the passage of the bill, it could damage Johnson’s standing with some of the most conservative members in the House. It only takes a few Republicans to stop a House trial or even end the speaker’s tenure, as former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy found out when eight Republicans joined Democrats to oust him.
The White House called for swift passage of the defense bill, saying it “provides the critical authorities we need to build the military necessary to deter future conflicts while supporting service members and their spouses and families who carry out that mission every day.”
What else is in the NDAA?
Consideration of the bill comes at a particularly dangerous time for the world, with wars raging in Ukraine and the Middle East, and as China increasingly flexes its military might in the South China Sea.
In Ukraine, the bill includes the creation of a special inspector general for Ukraine to address concerns about whether taxpayer dollars are being spent in Ukraine as intended. That’s in addition to the oversight work already performed by other agency watchdogs.
“We will continue to stay on top of this, but I want to assure my colleagues that there is no evidence of arms transfers being given to Ukraine or any other assistance,” the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Rogers of Alabama, told lawmakers this week in advocating for the bill.
In China, the bill establishes a new training program with Taiwan, requires a plan to expedite the delivery of Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Taiwan, and approves an agreement allowing Australia to – access to nuclear-powered submarines, which are stealthier and more capable than conventional ones. powered vessel.
Dozens of House Republicans objected because the bill would retain a Pentagon rule that allows for travel reimbursement when a service member needs to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. The Biden administration instituted the new rules after the Supreme Court struck down nationwide abortion rights, and some states limited or banned the procedure.
Republican Sen. Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville has for months blocked the promotion of more than 400 senior military leaders because of his objections to the policy. Heexcept for four-star generals and admirals, but many House Republicans supported his efforts and of the reimbursement policy in the House version of the defense bill.
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