WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Friday passed a sweeping defense bill that provides an expected 5.2% pay rise for service members, but strays from traditional military policy with Republican additions blocking the abortion coverage, diversity initiatives at the Pentagon, and transgender care that deeply divided the chamber.
Democrats voted against the package, which left the House Armed Services Committee in a nearly unanimous vote weeks ago before being tasked with GOP priorities in a heated late-night debate this week.
The final vote was 219 to 210, with four Democrats on the GOP side and four Republicans opposing. The bill, as written, is not expected to go anywhere in the Democratic-majority Senate.
Efforts to stop U.S. funding of Ukraine in its war with Russia were reversed, but Republicans added provisions to stem Defense Department diversity initiatives and restrict access to abortions. The abortion issue has been championed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who singularly blocks Senate confirmation of military officers, including the new commandant of the Marine Corps.
“We continue to block the Biden administration’s ‘woke’ agenda,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.
Turning the inescapable defense bill into a partisan battleground shows how the national military has been unexpectedly swept up in disputes over race, equity and women’s health care that now guide priorities of the Republican Party in widening the American national divide.
During a particularly tense moment in the debate, Democratic Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, explained how difficult it was to look across the aisle as the Republicans were cutting the earnings of women, blacks and others. in the army.
“You’re setting us back,” she said of an amendment by Rep. Eli Crane, R-Arizona, that would prevent the Department of Defense from requiring participation in race-based training for the hiring, promotions or retention.
Crane argued that Russia and China do not impose diversity measures on their military operations and neither should the United States. “We don’t want our army to be a social experiment,” he said. “We want the best of the best.”
When Crane used the pejorative phrase “people of color” to refer to black military personnel, Beatty asked that his words be stricken from the record.
Friday’s vote capped a tumultuous week for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, as conservatives essentially drove the agenda, forcing colleagues to consider their ideas for the annual bill that has been approved by Congress without fail since World War II.
“I think he’s doing really well because we’re moving forward — it was like over 1,500 amendments — and we’re going through them,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. She told reporters she changed her mind to support the bill after McCarthy offered her a seat on the committee that will negotiate the final version with the Senate.
Democrats, in a joint leadership statement, said they were voting against the bill because Republicans “turned what should be a meaningful investment in our men and women in uniform into an extreme and reckless legislative spree.” “.
“Maga’s extreme Republicans have chosen to hijack the historically bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act to continue to attack reproductive freedom and ram their right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people,” the statement said. representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark. from Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar from California.
The defense bill authorizes $874.2 billion for the coming year for defense spending, as per President Joe Biden’s budget request. The funding itself must be allocated later, when Congress deals with the appropriation bills, as is the normal process.
The package sets policy across the Department of Defense, as well as some aspects of the Department of Energy, and this year focuses particularly on the U.S. position toward China, Russia, and others. national security fronts.
Republican opposition to US support for war in Ukraine prompted a number of amendments, including one to block the use of the cluster munitions Biden just sent to help Ukraine fight Russia. It was a controversial decision because the weapons, which can leave behind unexploded ordnance endangering civilians, are banned by many other countries.
Most of these efforts to stop US support for Ukraine have failed. Proposals to roll back Pentagon diversity and inclusion measures and block some medical care for transgender staff have been approved.
GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, who served as a White House physician, advanced the abortion measure that would prohibit the Secretary of Defense from paying or reimbursing expenses related to abortion services.
Jackson and other Republicans have praised Tuberville for her stance against the Pentagon’s abortion policy, which has gained prominence as states began banning the procedure after the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer overturning the historic Roe v. Wade law.
“Now he has support, he’s back here in the House,” Jackson said.
But it is by no means certain that the House position will be maintained as the legislation passes through the Senate, which is preparing its own version of the bill. Senate Democrats have the majority but will need to work with Republicans on a bipartisan measure to ensure enough support for passage in their chamber.
McCarthy praised the House for eviscerating “radical agendas” that he said distracted from the military’s purpose.
Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee, led by Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, dropped their support due to changes in social policy.
Smith, who is white, tried to explain to Crane and other colleagues why the Pentagon’s diversity initiatives matter in America, drawing on his own experience as a businessman trying to get out of his own circle of contacts to be able to hire and deepen his understanding. other people.
Smith lamented that the bill the committee overwhelmingly passed “no longer exists. What was once an example of compromise and functional government has become an ode to bigotry and ignorance.”
Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri, Stephen Groves and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.