Written by Eliza Droton Edited by Annika Lilja
The House of Representatives passed the bipartisan $866 billion defense policy bill on Thursday, December 21, allowing President Biden to sign the annual bill on Friday, December 22. Congress and the Executive Branch pushed past opposition from the far right over the need for restriction of abortion access, transgender care, and diversity and inclusion rules.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was overwhelmingly bipartisan, with a final tally of 310-118 in the House. The bill passed the Senate a week prior with a bipartisan outcome of 87-13. The bill is one of the only major pieces of legislation Congress passes each consecutive year and sanctioned the largest pay raise, 5.2 percent, for military troops and Pentagon employees in over two decades.
However, it took months to get to this point as the bill faced strong criticism. Senator Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, held a one-man blockade on Pentagon military promotions for 10 months over his disagreement with the policy on abortion, holding up the progress Congress should have made over the course of this year. Tuberville was able to do this through preventing a unanimous consent request, which is how most Senate business gets brought to the floor, and also how any one senator can block hundreds of nominations. Tuberville finally dropped his hold on all promotions except several for four-star and above officials.
The final draft of the bill does not include any language on restrictions against the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, which was highly debated on Capitol Hill in past months. The abortion policy covers costs for troops who seek an abortion while in the military but need to travel to do so due to the restrictions on abortion in certain states. The policy is sure to be disputed again in 2024, as conservative Republican lawmakers worked hard to block it from the NDAA. Similarly, the NDAA did not restrict gender-affirming services and healthcare for military workers who are transgender.
The Republican side, however, secured wins by limiting what an employee can earn and pausing the hiring of defense employees focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which may cause Pentagon officials to resign. The Right also banned the pride flag and launched a review of service members who were discharged for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, they required the Pentagon to “dispose of unused border wall materials” (Politico). The NDAA also bans critical race theory to be taught in military schools.
The bill financed several initiatives to keep up with Russia and China, like an increase in partnerships in Europe and Asia, as well as new and improved weaponry, including those sent to Israel and Ukraine. However, the NDAA did not resolve any of the ongoing debate on how the US will further aid both Israel and Ukraine throughout their war efforts through the spending bill, as Democrats want funding for Ukraine, and Republicans want funding and stricter security for the US border with Mexico. Also, the FDAA aided a submarine deal in new partnerships with Britain and Australia.
Additionally, the bill controversially entails an extension of a surveillance program, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, directed at halting terrorism and foreign spies. The extension was deemed controversial due to the violation of privacy it may have on average Americans, as it had opposition from both sides of the aisle. The program allows for the government to obtain foreigners' communications when outside the country, in order to collect international intelligence. The program, however, has attained significant pushback due to the “civil liberties” of US citizens who may be in communication with the foreigners spied on, defying their rights as American citizens (CBS).
Congress passed the NDAA with no complications at the end of the year before going out of session until 2024. Biden signed the bill into law, making it the 63rd year in a row the President has done so.
CBS News. 14 Dec. 2023, www.cbsnews.com/news/senate-passes-defense-policy-bill/. Accessed 29 Dec. 2023
Demirjian, Karoun. "House Passes Defense Bill, Clearing It for Biden." The New York Times, 14 Dec. 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/12/14/us/politics/defense-bill-congress.html. Accessed 29 Dec. 2023.
Elving, Ron. "Tuberville Is Showing How Much Power One Lawmaker Wields under Senate Rules." NPR, 15 July 2023, www.npr.org/2023/07/15/1187530846/tuberville-senate-rules-abortion-military. Accessed 29 Dec. 2023.
O'Brien, Connor. "Biden Signs Defense Policy Bill, Extending Controversial Spying Program." Politico, 22 Dec. 2023, www.politico.com/news/2023/12/22/biden-defense-bill-spying-program-00133124. Accessed 29 Dec. 2023.
Singh, Kanishka. "Biden Signs $886 Billion US Defense Policy Bill into Law." Reuters, 22 Dec. 2023, www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-signs-886-billion-us-defense-policy-bill-into-law-2023-12-22/. Accessed 29 Dec. 2023.