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Senate sends fiscal 2023 NDAA to Biden’s desk

With enactment, Washington will have authorized about $858 billion on defense programs in this fiscal year

This year's NDAA is named after Oklahoma's James M. Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who is retiring at the end of the year.
This year's NDAA is named after Oklahoma's James M. Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who is retiring at the end of the year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to pass the final defense authorization bill for fiscal 2023, clearing the sweeping measure for President Joe Biden’s signature.

If Biden signs the NDAA into law, as he is expected to do, it would be the 62nd straight fiscal year that the defense policy measure has been enacted.

The Senate’s final NDAA passage vote was 83-11, and 60 votes were required. The House passed the bicameral compromise on Dec. 8.

When Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., noted that the bill is named after the committee’s top Republican, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chamber resounded with applause. Reed said that Inhofe’s leadership of the committee, both in the majority and minority, had been “monumental.” Inhofe is retiring at the end of this year.

With enactment of the bill, Washington will have authorized spending about $858 billion on defense programs in this fiscal year, mostly at the Pentagon. That is $45 billion, or 5 percent, more than Biden asked for in March.

The total amount of authorized funding would be about 10 percent higher than the fiscal 2022 level, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The funds have yet to be appropriated, but congressional leaders hope to clear an omnibus spending bill next week.

The final NDAA is noteworthy for several reasons, not least because it would rescind a 2021 Defense Department directive that troops be vaccinated against the coronavirus unless they have an allowable exemption for medical or religious reasons.

Amendments not attached

The Senate cleared the NDAA Thursday night after blocking two amendments.

One of those amendments — by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — would have reinstated troops discharged for refusing to be vaccinated for COVID-19, provided them back pay and service time, and prevented the Pentagon from reinstating the vaccine mandate without congressional authorization. That amendment was defeated 40-54, with the threshold for its adoption being 60 votes.

The other amendment, by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III, would streamline permitting of certain energy projects. The chamber rejected a cloture motion related to attaching the amendment 47-47, which required 60 votes for advancement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in floor remarks Thursday, said the NDAA “will help our armed forces and national security professionals safeguard our homeland and keep adversaries like Russia on their back feet.”

The new defense authorization bill, McConnell added, “is only a first step toward the investments, modernization and stronger strategies that we need to compete and win against rivals who don’t wish us well, but it is a crucial first step.”

Weapons bonanza

The approximately $858 billion NDAA topline comprises $847 billion in the bill itself plus another nearly $11 billion authorized by other committees.

The category of defense spending that would receive the biggest share of the increase above the level Biden sought is the procurement account, which would rise by $19 billion — or 13 percent — above the president’s request.

Top procurement items include 21 new Navy ships, instead of the 15 requested, for $33 billion — a $5 billion increase. And the measure would prohibit the decommissioning of a dozen other warships.

The bill would also authorize purchasing 69 F-35 fighter jets, up from the 61 requested.

On nuclear programs, the measure would authorize billions for new nuclear delivery vehicles — submarines, aircraft and missiles. The bill would push back against the Biden administration’s plans to halt a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile program. And it would limit retirements of B83 atomic bombs.

Paychecks

The measure would authorize a 4.6 percent raise for military personnel, the biggest in 20 years, though inflation has recently raged at a higher rate than that, and 2022 has seen the biggest surge in consumer prices in some 40 years.

However, the lawmakers who wrote the final bill deleted from the final package a House-passed provision that would have added to the 4.6 percent raise a 2.4 percent “inflation bonus” for servicemembers and civilians making less than $45,000 a year.

That discarded provision would have helped 820,000 Defense Department employees with some $600 million in relief, Defense Department officials told CQ Roll Call.

The negotiators also nixed or neutered all eight House-passed provisions that sought to obtain more information from the administration on the threat of domestic extremism in the military and society. The deletions were viewed by some experts as a concession to conservatives who have said the domestic extremist threat to U.S. armed forces has been overstated.

The bill is also a milestone in the campaign to change prosecutions in the military justice system. The fiscal 2022 NDAA had shifted key prosecution powers for certain crimes from military commanders to trained prosecutors. This year’s NDAA would further grow those powers and expand the covered crimes from 11 to 14, including sexual harassment.

The NDAA would authorize about $10 billion over five years in grants to Taiwan for use in purchasing U.S.-made military equipment and $1 billion a year in weapons for Taiwan drawn from U.S. stocks.

The measure also would endorse $11 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative.

For Ukraine, the bill includes $800 million in new security assistance.

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