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New NDAA advocates bulkier national defense budget

Measure would drop a Pentagon requirement for COVID vaccinations for most troops

The fiscal 2023 defense policy bill will be named after Oklahoma Republican James M. Inhofe, who is retiring after 28 years in the Senate.  The text of the NDAA bill was released Tuesday night.
The fiscal 2023 defense policy bill will be named after Oklahoma Republican James M. Inhofe, who is retiring after 28 years in the Senate. The text of the NDAA bill was released Tuesday night. (CQ Roll Call)

The newly minted defense authorization bill for fiscal 2023, made public Tuesday night, provides a shot in the arm to the U.S. defense budget but bars the military from discharging any more troops who refuse COVID-19 vaccine shots in their arms. 

The new NDAA rescinds an August 2021 Pentagon mandate for the services to require COVID vaccinations for most troops but does not require reinstatement of personnel who have been separated from service for refusing a jab.  

The measure would bring the Senate’s authorization for national defense programs to $857.9 billion, all but $10.6 billion of it in this bill. That overall figure includes $22.3 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration and $6.8 billion for the Department of Energy’s environmental cleanup efforts.

The topline dollar amount is $45 billion above the president’s request. The omnibus spending bill now being negotiated will deliver the budget authority for the funds.

Senate Democratic appropriators had proposed $850.4 billion for defense programs across multiple bills. But the looming enactment of the nearly $858 billion NDAA could pressure appropriators to spend more than that on defense and intelligence programs. 

The House was expected to vote on the NDAA as soon as Thursday and the Senate to soon follow suit, perhaps next week.  

If enacted, the bill would be the 62nd consecutive NDAA to become law.

The NDAA is important for, among other reasons, the fact that its enactment is necessary to provide military pay and benefits at the start of calendar year 2023.

Raises and bonuses

The bill would authorize a 4.6 percent across the board pay increase for military personnel and civilians.

However, House and Senate negotiators removed a House-passed “inflation bonus” of an additional 2.4 percent for troops and Defense Department civilians making less than $45,000 a year.

Christopher Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman, told CQ Roll Call this week that approximately 783,000 service members and about 37,000 civilians would have benefited. 

The House Appropriations Committee inserted $600 million for this bonus in its fiscal 2023 Defense bill, an amount appropriators may now not be authorized to pay. 

The Pentagon had endorsed a 3 percent bonus for lower-income troops, but the White House opposed including civilians from just one department.

Also for lower income troops, the measure would extend a basic needs allowance ensuring those personnel earn at least 150 percent of the poverty level — up from 130 percent in current law. The measure authorizes the Defense secretary to boost incomes to double the poverty line in select circumstances.
Permitting

The negotiated NDAA is noteworthy, too, for what it does not contain: a number of nondefense provisions, debate over which had slowed final negotiations over the bill and, if not removed, may have imperiled passage.

Left out of the bill was a proposal from Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., that would streamline the permitting process for oil and gas and renewable energy infrastructure projects. Republicans said the provision didn’t go far enough, and Democrats called it a giveaway to the fossil fuels sector. Many progressives were prepared to vote against the rule governing debate in the House, potentially complicating passage in that chamber.  

Also of note, the bill would ban contractors across the government from using Chinese-made semiconductors, after a lengthy phase-in period, an aide with knowledge of the provision said Tuesday. Many federal contractors and other businesses say they are unclear how they will comply.

The bill also takes from military commanders prosecution powers over certain major crimes in courts martial — authorities that were left out of last year’s NDAA.

Inflation

The NDAA’s total amount of authorized spending appears to include $72 billion to adjust for higher inflation for food, fuel, housing and acquisition programs. The Pentagon asked for $53 billion for that purpose in March and upped the request to $77 billion in November, CQ Roll Call reported this week. 

The bill also authorizes $800 million in fiscal 2023 for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which procures armaments to help Kyiv withstand Russia’s invasion.

Appropriators writing the omnibus are considering a $37.7 billion Ukraine security assistance package for fiscal 2023, including $7 billion for the security assistance program.

The new NDAA would authorize more than $2.7 billion for additional munitions production and capacity expansion for increased future production, partly due to the demands on defense contractors posed by supplying Ukrainian forces and preparing for future contingencies.

The bill also requires a report from U.S. inspectors general who oversee spending on aid to Ukraine. Such oversight is likely to be a focus of the GOP-majority House in the next Congress.

More weapons

The bill endorses ample spending for weapons, contingent on appropriations.

The measure would authorize continued development of the Sea Launched Cruise Missile, which the administration has sought to terminate over the objections of top officers. The bill would authorize $25 million for the Navy to continue work on the project and another $20 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration to do the same.

Moreover, the bill would authorize funding for combat aircraft and munitions, including 55 F-35 fighter jets, six fewer jets than requested in the president’s budget.

It would prohibit the retirement of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, and prevent or modify the retirement plans for various aircraft, including B-1, F-15, E-3 AWACS and C-40 aircraft.

The bill would, however, support the planned divestment of A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, also known as Warthog. Lawmakers have resisted various attempts by the Pentagon to retire the aircraft since at least 2015. 

The NDAA would authorize increased funding for CH-47 Chinook helicopters, UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and MQ-1 Gray Eagle drone platforms. 

It would authorize increased funding for M-SHORAD and Patriot missile systems, and a number of tanks and combat vehicles, including Abrams tanks, infantry squad vehicles and tactical vehicles. 

The bill would require the Pentagon to carry out a pilot program for tactical vehicle safety data collection, and complete an annual report on safety upgrades to Humvees.

Ships and missiles

The measure would authorize $32.6 billion for Navy shipbuilding, including for the procurement of 11 battle force ships in fiscal 2023: three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers; two Virginia-class submarines; two expeditionary fast transports; one Constellation-class frigate; one San Antonio-class amphibious ship; one John Lewis-class oiler; and one Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ship. 

It authorizes increased funding for the development of the hypersonic glide-phase interceptor — technology designed to destroy incoming hypersonic missiles, and requires a strategy for the protection of DOD satellites. 

The bill would extend through fiscal 2023 the Pacific Deterrence Initiative — a $6.1 billion fund to counter China, and the measure would authorize roughly $1 billion in additional funding to address unfunded requirements identified by the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

It would also authorize the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act of 2022, which includes provisions that aim to increase U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation, including through Foreign Military Financing grants that would be made available to Taiwan to use to purchase American weapons systems.

Mark Satter contributed to this report.

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