US House passes military bill authorizing record spending, Senate debate next
PHOTO CAPTION: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Wyatt Cornish fires an M240B machine gun during a live-fire range at Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, Japan, June 28, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Noah Masog via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of a sweeping bill setting policy for the Department of Defense on Friday, but the "must-pass" bill's chances of becoming law were uncertain after Republicans added a series of culturally conservative amendments.
The fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which sets policy for the Pentagon and authorizes $886 billion in spending, was approved 219-210.
The vote was largely along party lines, a departure from the typical bipartisan support for a bill that has passed every year since 1961.
The House measure includes a pay raise for members of the military, initiatives to counter China and an additional $300 million to support Ukraine as it responds to the February 2021 invasion by Russia.
During debate, Democrats warned that most of them would not support the NDAA after the Republican-majority House voted, almost exclusively along party lines, on Thursday night for amendments on hot-button social issues pushed by the party's hard-right flank.
The House voted 221 to 213 for an amendment that would reverse the Defense Department's policy of reimbursing expenses for service members who travel to obtain an abortion.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the landmark Roe v. Wade decision establishing a national right to abortion. While some states have since moved to place significant new restrictions on abortion, it remains legal in other states.
The Pentagon travel reimbursement policy is aimed at helping those in the military or family members who are seeking an abortion but stationed in states that have outlawed it.
"House Republicans today passed an NDAA that increases our military’s lethality and decreases the wokeness that has been infused in its ranks in recent years," said Republican Representative Barry Loudermilk referring to the conservative amendments that were approved.
Representative Adam Smith, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, warned: "We are going to have fewer qualified people willing to join the military because of what was passed" during the contentious amendment process.
The House also voted 222-211 to prohibit the Pentagon from paying for gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatment.
UPCOMING SENATE DEBATE
House Republicans were able to pass their amendments without Democratic support, but such provisions would die in the Senate, where President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats hold a 51-49 majority.
Debate in that chamber is set to begin on Tuesday.
The Senate is expected to pass its version of the NDAA later this month, after which the two chambers will negotiate a compromise that would come up for a vote later this year.
The NDAA, one of the only major pieces of legislation Congress passes annually, is closely watched by a broad swath of industry and other interests because it determines everything from purchases of ships and aircraft to pay increases for soldiers and how to address geopolitical threats.
The eventual House-Senate "conference" to hammer out a compromise bill is expected to be particularly contentious.
For example, Republican Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene on Friday warned that she will work to delete the authorization of new money for Ukraine. "That's my ultimate goal," she told reporters. Senate negotiators were expected to fight hard to retain such funding, however.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Ismail Shakil and David Gregorio)