Thursday, the Senate passed an $858 billion defense-policy package that permits U.S. military commanders to acquire new weapons and gives pay hikes for troops, funds military goals, and eliminates the Covid-19 vaccination mandate. The passage of the bill marks the completion of a major item on Congress’ year-end to-do list.
By a vote of 83 to 11, Congress approved the National Defense Authorization Act, increasing the national security budget by nearly 10% over last year. The measure, which generally has broad bipartisan support, passed the House last Monday with 350 votes in favor and 80 opposed. The measure will now go to President Biden for his signature.
Congress is rushing to complete its final duties before leaving town the following week. In a related topic, the Senate was scheduled to vote Thursday evening on a bill extending existing government spending levels by one week to give negotiators more time to draft a full-year omnibus agreement. Existing financing ends on Friday.
The yearly defense-policy bill of the United States Congress comprises hundreds of minor policy recommendations intended to direct Defense Department officials toward military goals. The budget allows more than $160 billion for aircraft, missiles, ammunition, combat vehicles, Navy ships, and other equipment and funds for developing a new nuclear-capable cruise missile that could be launched from ships or submarines.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said in a statement that the vote demonstrates that members on both sides of the aisle are devoted to a robust national defense and the safety of our women and men in uniform.
It allots $800 million for security assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces. It authorizes up to $10 billion over five years to finance weaponry and military equipment sales to Taiwan and training and other security assistance to help the island defend itself against a potential Chinese invasion.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) stated that this robust bipartisan bill bolsters our long-term pledges to stand with both vulnerable countries in China’s orbit and vulnerable individuals within its borders.
In addition, the measure allocates $1 billion for the National Military Stockpile to purchase titanium, semiconductor-component cadmium zinc telluride, and other essential minerals for U.S. defense producers in the event of future supply-chain interruptions or wartime shortages.
The bill restructures the military justice system by randomizing court-martial juries and removes commanders’ residual judicial and prosecutorial authority over some major offenses, including sexual assault.
One of the most politically contentious sections of the defense policy bill would remove the obligation for military personnel to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Republicans advocated for the bill, arguing that it would aid recruiters in attracting more applications to the armed forces and avoid the loss of skilled military leaders who would rather resign than receive the vaccination.
According to defense analysts, it is unclear how destructive the vaccination requirement has been to recruiting efforts and readiness levels. According to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, vaccination has kept military members healthy.
A small number of politicians from both parties opposed the measure.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) tweeted, at this time, the U.S. was spending more on the military than the next eleven nations combined; the country should invest in health care, employment, housing, and education, not additional weapons of mass devastation.
Before enactment, parliamentarians rejected many suggested amendments to the bill, including proposals that would have accelerated environmental inspections of large energy projects and reinstated military personnel discharged for refusing the Covid-19 vaccination.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has advocated for a reform of the permitting process, arguing that it would accelerate U.S. energy output and reduce consumer power costs. The White House and both fossil-fuel and clean-energy developers backed the proposal.
Some Democrats and environmentalists were concerned, however, that accelerating oil and gas projects may jeopardize ecosystems and threaten the health of neighboring communities. In addition, many Republicans support modifying the regulations for obtaining permits but argue that Mr. Manchin’s strategy for removing obstacles is insufficiently robust.
The legislation fell short of the required 60 votes for passage, with 47 parliamentarians supporting it and 47 lawmakers opposing it.
In a separate vote, legislators rejected a Republican-led proposal to restore servicemen fired for refusing the vaccination. There were 40 votes in favor and 54 against.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) dropped an amendment that would have capped fees for attorneys representing service troops who drank polluted water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina but stated that he would “keep fighting for this issue” in the coming days.