With Some Democratic Help, House Passes Defense Authorization Bill

July 14, 2023 by Dan McCue
With Some Democratic Help, House Passes Defense Authorization Bill
U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court building (to left) from the tower of the Old Post Office building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The House on Friday passed the annual defense policy bill, voting 219-210 after the support of a handful of moderates pushed the legislation through despite opposition from the chamber’s right and left flanks.

The National Defense Authorization Act is typically considered a noncontroversial piece of legislation and last year’s bill marked the 61st consecutive year the authorization was enacted.

Though its passage ordinarily coincides with the consideration of annual budget matters, the NDAA is not a spending measure. Instead, it authorizes potential spending on programs and policy measures with the money to be allocated later.

And so sure is the bill to pass each year many members see it as a vehicle to get their own favored legislation passed as an amendment.

This year, however, the debate was a little different.

Though the bill passed out of the House Armed Services Committee by a 58-1 vote, two controversial issues were almost its undoing this year.

First, the bill was amended to block a Biden administration policy allowing the Pentagon to cover abortion-related expenses. 

While that infuriated most Democrats, hardcore conservatives in the GOP ranks also successfully added amendments banning gender-affirming care and the teaching of critical race theory and abolishing diversity, equity and inclusion programs, among other measures.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., voted against the legislation that would take away a servicewoman’s right to access an abortion if she is stationed in a state that does not protect a woman’s right to choose. Gottheimer released the following statement.

According to Gottheimer, by including these amendments, “far-right extremists” in the House “hijacked the legislation as a tool to further attack choice, women’s health care, and personal privacy.” 

“Our brave servicemembers risk their lives every day to protect our nation, and it sickens me that anyone would prevent them from making personal, private health care decisions about their own bodies, lives and futures,” he said.

“Nearly half of our servicewomen are stationed in states that do not protect a woman’s right to choose. The extreme provision forced into the defense bill by the right-wing would prevent them from accessing an abortion, even in cases of rape and the life of the mother,” Gottheimer added.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., also condemned the House version of the bill, noting that at the time the House Armed Services Committee gave the bill its support it enjoyed strong bipartisan endorsement.

“But this week, the House Freedom Caucus insisted on using this normally bipartisan bill as an experiment to test fringe ideas — including endangering the lives of women in the military who need emergency medical care and casting doubts on the effectiveness of vaccines,” Spanberger said.

“Rather than send a message to the world that both parties stand with our servicemembers — regardless of our policy disagreements, they chose to prioritize getting headlines. This partisan bill puts us on a dangerous path towards not being able to reach an agreement on funding our military,” she added. 

Meanwhile, members of the Republican Freedom Caucus, the most conservative of the chamber’s conservative members, were angered that amendments they proposed to limit aid to Ukraine failed to make the cut.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., was the sponsor of one of the rejected amendments. Hers would have struck $300 million in funding for Ukraine. It failed earlier this week by a vote of 89-341, with 130 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it. 

Standing on the steps of the Capitol Friday, Greene said, “The NDAA we voted on today is a good bill.

“It removes funding for transgender surgeries, provides pay increases and greater health care benefits to our servicemembers, and defunds all diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Unfortunately, it still includes funding for Ukraine,” she continued, adding, “I will work to make sure every single penny for Ukraine is removed, or I’ll be a no vote when it comes back to the House.”

In the end, only four members of the Freedom Caucus voted against the bill, while four Democrats voted for it.

The Democrats who voted for the bill were Reps. Don Davis, of North Carolina; Jared Golden, of Maine; Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, of Washington state; and Gabe Vasquez, of New Mexico.

The Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Andy Biggs, of Arizona; Ken Buck, of Colorado; Eli Crane, of Arizona; and Thomas Massie, of Kentucky.

Five Members did not vote. They were Reps. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Dwight Evans, D-Pa., Mike Kelly, R-Pa., Jason Smith, R-Mo., and Brandon Williams, R-N.Y.

The bill in the form passed by the House Friday has virtually no chance of passing in the Democratically controlled Senate, which is already at work on its own version of the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Thursday that he expected the chamber to begin voting on its version of the NDAA next Tuesday.

This bill has already been reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee with a 25-1 vote. 

Schumer said he, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the various Senate committees will have their respective teams working over the weekend to see what will be included in the package of amendments.

“Undoubtedly, hundreds of amendments will be filed to this important piece of legislation. I am hopeful that all committee chairs and committee rankers will work together in good faith,” Schumer said on the floor of the Senate Thursday.

“Obviously, both sides will want to have amendment votes. Just like we have in recent efforts, I am willing to ensure we consider and vote on a reasonable number of amendments,” he said.

Once both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA have passed, they will then go to conference committee, where negotiators from the two chambers will hammer out a compromise measure.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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