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Senate Passes $886 Billion Defense Spending Bill With Pay Raises for Troops, Ukraine Aid

WASHINGTON − The Senate passed an $886 billion defense spending plan Wednesday, supported by President Joe Biden, that includes funding for Ukraine and annual pay raises for troops in a last-minute rush to authorize spending before the end of the year.

The National Defense Authorization Act provides funding each year for Pentagon priorities such as training and equipment. The Senate passed the legislation by a bipartisan vote of 87-13. Congress has advanced the must-pass defense spending bill consecutively for the last 61 years.

“At a time of huge trouble for global security, doing the defense authorization bill is more important than ever,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Passing the NDAA enables us to hold the line against Russia, stand firm against the Chinese Communist Party and ensure America’s defense remain state of the art at all times.”

The bill now heads to the House, where some ultraconservative Republicans have threatened to tank it after lawmakers dropped contentious provisions that would have modified the Pentagon’s abortion policy and some gender affirming health care. They are also unhappy with a temporary extension of a domestic surveillance program included in the bill without reforms.

What is in the NDAA?

The Senate’s NDAA is a compromise version of the spending bill the House passed earlier this year. The House version included provisions targeting transgender health care policies in the Pentagon and an amendment that would revoke a Pentagon policy that reimburses out-of-state travel for service members who receive abortions. The abortion policy is one Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., protested for 10 months by blocking all military promotions in the Senate.

The Senate NDAA includes provisions that will:

  • Authorize $844.3 billion for the Department of Defense and $32.4 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy
  • Support Defense department activities among Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States
  • Extend the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative through fiscal year 2027 and authorize the full budget request of $300 million in fiscal year 2024
  • Provide a 5.2 percent pay raise for military servicemembers and the Defense department civilian workforce
  • Support requested funding for naval vessels, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, weapon systems and munitions

A handful of Senate Republicans threatened to delay the passage of the spending bill over the last few weeks because of the missing amendments on social issues.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, forced procedural votes in an effort to delay the bill’s passage in the upper chamber.

“Shame on Schumer for backing the Biden admin’s radical abortion agenda. I never back down from a fight,” Ernst wrote Tuesday on X. “The Pentagon should be focused on protecting innocent life, not destroying it.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also looked to block the NDAA’s package after the final version stripped his proposed legislation that would provide compensation for victims of nuclear contamination. He forced a procedural vote on the NDAA last week, but failed to delay its package.

Republicans debate surveillance program

The Senate’s NDAA also includes a four-month extension of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a domestic surveillance program which is set to expire this month. The program allows the government to gather private messages of foreign nationals overseas who are using U.S.-based messaging platforms.

The Senate voted to block an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would remove the extension of Section 702.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has said allowing the program to lapse would jeopardize national security.

Some lawmakers agree and view Section 702 as necessary for keeping the country safe. But others say it has been misused.

“Congress has the chance to say no more unconstitutional searches on Americans authorized only by secret courts,” Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., wrote on X. “We must stand our ground and protect Americans’ civil liberties.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., pulled two bills from consideration on the House floor last week after facing opposition from within his caucus over how to address the program’s reauthorization.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called Section 702 the “biggest abuses and violations of the fourth amendment in our country’s history.”

“Our Republican base is concerned with stopping the weaponized government and right now there is no accountability,” she wrote on X.

Will it pass in the House?

The NDAA now heads to the House where it needs two-thirds of votes to pass.

But there is strong opposition among some Republicans over the missing provisions on social issues.

“The sole focus of the NDAA should be on national defense and security issues, but instead it funds transgender surgery in the military and still allows drag queen shows on military bases. Time to go back to the drawing board,” Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said in a statement.

Source : USA TODAY