The House on Friday narrowly passed its version of the fiscal 2024 defense authorization bill after Republicans secured several partisan amendments on hot-button social issues, prompting almost every Democrat to vote against it.
The final vote on the National Defense Authorization Act was 219-210, with all but four Democrats voting against it. The Democratic “yes” votes were Reps. Don Davis of North Carolina, Jared Golden of Maine, Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez of Washington, and Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico.
The vote sets up a conflict with the Democrat-controlled Senate, which will undoubtedly seek to strip out the more conservative provisions from the House bill when the two chambers hold their conference later this year. Despite the House Armed Services Committee’s 58-1 vote to advance the bill last month, Democrats said with near unanimity that they could not support the bill in its amended form.
Republican amendments to the bill would rescind the Pentagon’s program reimbursing servicemembers who must travel to obtain reproductive health care, limit access to gender-affirming care for transgender troops, and end various diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the Defense Department.
The abortion provision, sponsored by Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, stood out as a red line for most Democrats. During a press call with reporters Friday, Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. — both veterans and members of the Armed Services Committee — slammed the amendment.
“We should obviously be focusing our efforts on prioritizing military readiness and national security and supporting our troops and our families and their quality of life that they deserve,” Houlahan said. “But what we’re doing is exactly the opposite of that, because we’re telling 51 percent of our population — obviously those that are women — that we don’t respect them and that we don’t respect their bodily autonomy.”
Houlahan offered a motion to recommit Friday morning to send the bill back to committee. The motion was rejected, 210-217.
Meanwhile, ultraconservative members of the House Republican caucus called the bill a major win, criticizing what they called the Biden administration’s efforts to impose a liberal agenda on the military.
“We’re here to tell you today that this is a huge victory,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., told reporters Friday morning. “A week ago, this bill, to many of us, looked untenable — and so it has improved dramatically.”
Late Thursday night, it was far from clear whether Republicans had the votes to pass the legislation without Democratic support, especially given several Ukraine-focused amendments from right-wing Republicans that were soundly rejected by lawmakers from both parties.
But ultimately, the efforts by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to appease hard-right House Freedom Caucus lawmakers by setting up votes on dozens of controversial amendments paid off. Fresh off their victory, those lawmakers said their bid to include their own priorities in the NDAA would continue.
“This is not over yet,” Perry said. “And there’s still opportunities to improve it.”
However, House Democrats expressed significant skepticism that provisions in the bill they objected to would survive reconciliation with the Senate’s version or be signed by the president.
“My hope and prayers are that this won’t stand, and I believe it won’t,” Sherrill said Friday. “Hopefully this stuff will cool off and cooler heads will prevail, and then conference will end up resolving this.”
The House NDAA would authorize $874.2 billion in national defense spending, including $841.5 billion for the Defense Department and $32.2 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department. It would also provide a 5.2 percent military pay increase.
The Senate is slated to take up its version of the NDAA on the floor next week.