NDAA: House tries to avoid political battles over Pentagon policy bill
Legislation, considered one of the few measures “to be adopted” every year, is a regular forum for political disputes that, in some cases, are peripheral to national security. This year’s bill attracted more than 1,200 proposed amendments from House members, shattering levels of interest seen in previous cycles and gaining rare public reprimands from leading Democrats and Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee.
“If it doesn’t help the fighter,” his fellow Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) warned this week, “it doesn’t need to be in this bill.”
In recent years, in addition to directing the Pentagon’s annual funding, the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, has ordered the renaming of certain military bases to dissociate these installations from their Confederate legacy and instituted paid family leave for all federal workers.
Proposals under consideration this year focus on issues as diverse as accelerating military health initiatives to increase visa processing capacity for Afghans left behind in last year’s hasty evacuation; as timely as monitoring security aid to Ukraine and cracking down on Russia’s ability to participate in international forums; and as commonplace as requiring that all flags and flowers displayed on Department of Defense facilities be American-made.
The list is also notable for the many measures that were initiated but ultimately excluded, such as Republican-backed efforts to dismantle the military’s requirements for coronavirus vaccines and deprioritize initiatives targeting extremism in the ranks, and competing proposals from both sides of the aisle to regulate how the military handles abortion after the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade.
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In many cases, the Rules Committee – which dictates the procedures for floor debates – opted for less controversial substitutes. Instead of amendments regarding abortion, for example, its members allowed debate on the launch of a pilot program to combat unwanted pregnancies and other reproductive health measures.
But the floor debate, which began on Wednesday, is expected to present some friction. The list of amendments includes, for example, measures to remove up to $100 billion from the overall cost of the defense bill.
Another proposal would allow Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to increase the ‘inflation bonus’ for service members who earn $45,000 a year or less on top of a 2.4% pay rise to account for hardships facing military families as economists fear the US is on the cusp of a recession. Both would come in addition to a general salary increase of 4.6% already in the bill and such competing ventures could divide the House — and not necessarily along party lines.
There is also the potential for political fallout around proposals that seek to condition US security assistance for certain countries on meeting criteria, including human rights. The House is set to consider limiting aid to the Philippines for this reason, preventing the sale of F-16s to Turkey over its conduct towards Greece and suspending arms sales to the Saudi Arabia for the murder of journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.
And heated disagreement is possible on a subset of amendments related to recreational drugs and other controlled substances, as the House is set to vote under the NDAA on whether to expand the access to banking services for cannabis businesses and to authorize the use of ecstasy and certain psychedelics. as alternatives to prescription opioids in military medicine.
However, there is likely to be strong bipartisan support for measures relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including amendments requiring reporting and other measures to better account of US weapons entering the country. Other proposals call for political statements or statements by Congress that Russia should never be allowed to join organizations like the G-7 and should be forced to release Russian political prisoners like Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara- Murza.
Two high profile Americans detained in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, are not mentioned by name in the defense bill or in the proposed amendments.
There will likely be bipartisan support for measures to urgently bolster the Pentagon’s ability to defend against enemy drones and bolster cybersecurity. and satellite systems, alongside investments in other technological advancements.
“The Pentagon,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), “is generally not good at moving fast.”
The list of amendments includes some familiar ideas who deserved the support of the House in previous years, but failed to gain Senate approval. These include efforts to repeal long-standing authorizations to use military force adopted in 2002 and 1991 to authorize hostilities against Iraq. They also include a measure giving the mayor of Washington the power to call in National Guard personnel in an emergency, a power that all state governors have.
It also includes measures to build on recent changes. A the amendment would commission a report on how the Department of Defense has reflected the contributions of black Americans in its naming practices for military installations. Another would ensure that service members complaining of harassment or discrimination would have their case heard within 180 days or be free to pursue their claims in civil court. Others target post-traumatic stress and mental health issues affecting military and veterans.
The expected House approval of his defense bill will be an important step in the process, but not the final word on how Pentagon funds will be directed.
The Senate has yet to schedule a vote on its version of the bill, which, once passed, will need to be reconciled with the House version and approved by both houses.
Final legislation could also be limited by congressional appropriations. House-proposed defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1 and has yet to receive a floor vote, envisions a $762 billion budget for the Pentagon and military , which is about $78 billion less than the defense bill currently before us. would allow.
The appropriations bill also addresses issues that the authorization bill avoids, such as abortion. The defense spending bill would ensure that service members could not be denied the right to take time off for the purpose of having an abortion or assisting a partner to have an abortion. The Authorization Bill is silent on this.