The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to pass the fiscal 2024 defense policy bill, setting up the sprawling, $886.3 billion National Defense Authorization Act for House consideration Thursday.
Senators adopted the conference report by a 87-13 tally. The vote came after the legislation cleared a couple of final hurdles, including a Democratic hold on the 3,000-page NDAA conference report and a protest of the bill’s four-month extension of a controversial surveillance authority.
But ultimately, the compromise plan secured strong bipartisan support on the floor in a passage vote that came a week after the language was first released.
Speaking on the floor earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., hailed the NDAA’s approval of a 5.2 percent pay raise for U.S. military personnel and its authorizations for Indo-Pacific deterrence programs, including aid for Taiwan and support for the U.S.-U.K.-Australian security agreement known as AUKUS.
“At a time of huge trouble for global security, doing the defense authorization bill is more important than ever,” Schumer said. “Passing the NDAA enables us to hold the line against Russia, stand firm against the Chinese Communist Party and ensure America’s defenses remain state of the art at all times.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also lauded the bill’s authorization of the military pay raise plus its requirements for new oversight mechanisms for Ukraine security assistance. And McConnell touted the bill’s authorization of spending on the U.S. defense industrial base’s production capacity, on Israeli missile defenses and on weapons needed in the Indo-Pacific region.
“This year’s NDAA recognizes the need to strengthen America’s position in the strategic competition with China through targeted improvements in critical capabilities from long-range fires to anti-ship weapons to modernizing our nuclear triad,” McConnell said.
Final Senate hurdles
Before senators could take Wednesday’s passage vote, they had to contend with a daylong hold on the bill from Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — an attempt to keep lawmakers in Washington to reach agreement on a stalled $110.5 billion national security supplemental funding package.
Bennet Wednesday afternoon dropped his hold on the NDAA, allowing the Senate to move forward on the bill a few hours later.
Then, ahead of the passage vote, lawmakers blocked an effort from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to remove from the NDAA a temporary extension of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes collection of communications data from foreigners abroad.
“They’ve known for five years [Section 702] was going to expire at the end of this year and yet they just want to punt it with the hope that they’ll never have to debate it,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “Extending this section 702 robs Congress of the ability to make reforms now and likely robs Congress of the opportunity to make reforms anytime in the next year.”
Lawmakers voted 65-35 to waive Paul’s point of order.
Prepping for suspension
In the House, lawmakers are likely to consider the legislation Thursday under suspension of the rules, which calls for a two-thirds majority of lawmakers present and voting to pass it.
The final version of the legislation is more moderate than an earlier iteration that was approved largely on party lines in July. The original House bill contained several Republican-backed amendments on hot-button social issues. But the conference plan strips much of that out, leaving in place some limited efforts to curtail the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Still, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., sought to underscore the “conservative victories” GOP members secured, such as a salary cap and limited-time hiring freeze on Pentagon DEI staff.
“Again, this was agreed to at the ‘Big Four’ level and represents some concessions on the part of Democrats,” Wicker told reporters Wednesday morning, referencing negotiations among Armed Services committee leaders.
John M. Donnelly contributed to this report.