Senate Approves Defense Authorization Bill

December 15, 2021 by Dan McCue
Senate Approves Defense Authorization Bill
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, have argued in favor of changing the way the military prosecutes sexual assault and other serious crimes. (Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday afternoon passed the National Defense Authorization Act, ending a prolonged standoff on amendments, many of which were jettisoned from the final bill.

In the end the vote was a decidedly bipartisan 89-10. The bill will now go to President Biden’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.

“For the past six years, Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to pass an annual defense authorization act without fail,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., after the votes were counted.

“With so many priorities to balance, I thank my colleagues for working hard over these last few months, both in committee and off the floor, to get NDAA done,” Schumer said.


But not everyone was happy, including Schumer’s Democratic counterpart from New York, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who had sponsored a measure that would have empowered independent military prosecutors to handle military sexual assault cases, rather than those in chain of command of the victim or the accused.

The version of the NDAA passed Wednesday does include significant changes to how the military prosecutes a wide range of crimes, but still allows commanders to conduct trials as they see fit when it comes to sexual assault.

When she learned her stronger provisions were being set aside in the last days of negotiations, Gillibrand accused the House and Senate Armed Services leadership of “gutting” her reforms “behind closed doors” and thereby “doing a disservice to our service members and our democracy.”

“Removing that authority from commanders is critical,” the senator said in a written statement released Dec. 7. “Anything less will likely be seen as compromising what is designed to be an independent part of the military justice process, thus significantly undermining this recommendation.”

Gillibrand is now seeking a stand alone vote on her original legislation.

The National Defense Authorization Act is almost as big as the government itself.


It authorizes appropriations for the Department of Defense, some aspects of the intelligence community, nuclear programs that fall under the auspices of the Department of Energy and the defense-related activities of other federal agencies.

Beyond authorizing expenditures, however, the bill also establishes the nation’s defense policies and how they will be administered.

And though many in the general public think of the NDAA as an appropriations bill, in practice, it isn’t. It provides no budget authority, but rather suggests how Congress will vote on later appropriations for particular programs.

This year’s $768.2 billion bill provides $740 billion for the Department of Defense — roughly $25 billion more than President Biden requested for fiscal 2022 in his defense budget.

It also includes $27.8 billion for defense-related activities in the Department of Energy and another $378 million for other defense-related activities.

In addition, it provides a 2.7% pay increase for Defense Department civilian employees and military service members.

Also struck from the bill was Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act., which would have banned the import of products from Chica made by the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims.

A compromise version of the bill was approved in the House last week.

Also missing is a provision sought by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., which would have repealed the 1991 and 2002 Iraq War authorizations, measures that subsequent presidents have used to justify unrelated uses of force.


As part of the final agreement, lawmakers also dropped a provision from the bill that would have required women to register for the selective service. 

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

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