The House on Thursday passed, 329-101, its version of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which would authorize $840.2 billion in national defense spending, after sifting through hundreds of amendments and hours of debate.
The sprawling Pentagon policy bill, which has been enacted into law every year for the past 61 years, would authorize funds for the Defense Department and national security programs within the Department of Energy.
“As the legislative process continues, I thank my House colleagues for their thoughtful contributions and support of this year’s NDAA. There’s a lot to be proud of in this bill, and the stakes for our country’s national security could not be higher,” said House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., in a press release following the bill’s passage.
The bill would support President Joe Biden’s request to maintain a roughly 2.1 million-person military. Military personnel would receive the requested 4.6 percent across-the-board pay raise, and the bill adds a supplementary 2.4 percent “inflation bonus” for lower-income military personnel and civilians.
Through a series of roll call votes Wednesday and Thursday, lawmakers defeated several amendments that would have cut the bill’s authorized level of spending and rebuffed proposals to retire or kill incumbent weapons programs.
The House voted 78-350 to defeat a proposal by California Democrat Barbara Lee that would have cut the $840.2 billion authorized by the bill by $100 billion. Lee’s proposal would have exempted from that reduction all military and civilian pay and benefits accounts and the Defense Health Program.
Similarly, the House defeated, 151-277, another proposal by Lee that would have subtracted the nearly $37 billion that the House Armed Services Committee added for a variety of programs to get the bill to the $840.2 billion level.
The House also rejected, 208-221, a proposal by Smith to allow the Navy to retire all nine of the littoral combat ships it wants to stop operating. The bill bars the Navy from retiring five of the ships.
And the chamber adopted an amendment from Virginia Republican Rob Wittman, as part of an en bloc package of hundreds of other noncontroversial amendments, that would prohibit disposal of the ships unless they are transferred to an allied nation.
The massive piece of legislation would authorize $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine and force the Biden administration to keep developing a nuclear cruise missile that officials had wanted to shelve.
Eyes on Ukraine
Members adopted several amendments related to the U.S. support for Ukraine as the Russian invasion extends into its fifth month.
An amendment from Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal that would direct the Pentagon to report to Congress on the distribution of U.S.-made weapons to Ukraine and the efforts to stop those weapons from falling into the hands of extremists was also adopted as part of an en bloc package.
Another amendment from Smith would authorize the defense secretary to establish a revolving fund to procure high-demand munitions in advance of their transfer to foreign countries as part of support operations for Ukraine. That amendment was also part of an en bloc package.
Lawmakers adopted an amendment from Nevada Democrat Dina Titus that would order quarterly briefings to the House and Senate defense and foreign affairs committees on the DOD’s efforts to replenish stocks of weapons and ammunition sent to Ukraine.
The House greenlighted two amendments that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations of military force against Iraq.
An amendment from Virginia Democrat Gerald E. Connolly that would impose temporary limits on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and require various reports related to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was adopted as part of an en bloc package.
An amendment from New Hampshire Democrat Chris Pappas was adopted 244-179. It would prohibit the president from selling or transferring F-16 fighter jets or F-16 modernization kits to Turkey unless the president certifies to Congress that, during the preceding 120-day period, Turkey had not violated the sovereignty of Greece.
Also noteworthy was the House's 218-209 vote to adopt an amendment by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to give the mayor of the District of Columbia authority over the D.C. National Guard that is comparable to the power governors of states and territories exercise over their Guards.
As always, the Pentagon bill, which passes each year, often acts as a catchall for legislation that might not otherwise get a vote. As a result, the bill has some provisions that are seemingly unrelated to national security.
An offering from New York Democrat Grace Meng would require that all public buildings, including those that house federal agencies and the U.S. Capitol, offer free menstrual products in all restrooms. That amendment was also adopted en bloc.
In the coming months, the Senate will take up its own version of the annual defense policy bill.