US Senate backs sweeping defense policy bill, sets up clash with House bill

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate passed a sweeping bill setting policy for the Department of Defense on Thursday, setting up a showdown with legislation passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives with “culture war” amendments eliminating abortion rights and diversity protections.

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, by 86 to 11, with strong support from both Democrats and Republicans.

The fiscal 2024 NDAA, which authorizes a record $886 billion in spending, is one of the few major bills Congress passes every year. It governs everything from pay raises for the troops – this year’s will be 5.2% – to purchases of ships and aircraft to policies such as support for Ukraine.

The NDAA has passed every year since 1961, usually with strong bipartisan support. But this year, the Republican-controlled House passed its version of the bill by a narrow 219-210 majority, after hard-right Republicans added amendments addressing hot-button social issues such as a repeal of a Pentagon policy of reimbursing expenses for service members who travel to obtain an abortion.

The Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said the hard-right provisions in the House bill would not become law. Democrats control only a narrow 51-49 seat majority in the Senate, but senators from both parties have said they do not want social issues to stand in the way of the defense bill becoming law.

The Senate passed dozens of its own amendments, including some addressing competition with China.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for an amendment that would require U.S. companies to notify federal agencies of investments in Chinese technologies such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence and another that boosted some Chinese purchases of U.S. farmland.

“What’s happening in the Senate is a stark contrast to the partisan race to the bottom we saw in the House, where House Republicans are pushing partisan legislation that has zero chance of passing,” Schumer said.

This year’s NDAA is several steps from becoming law.

Now that both the House and Senate bills have passed, members will hammer out a compromise, which in turn must pass both chambers before it can be sent to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign or veto.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Diane Craft)

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