Monday, September 18, 2023
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House passes $840 billion annual defense bill

The Senate must now pass their own version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House voted Thursday to pass a whopping $840 billion bill to fund the Department of Defense and U.S. national security goals.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which is passed on an annual basis, made it through the House by a vote of 329-101. The bill proposes an approximately 7% increase in top-line defense spending for the fiscal year of 2023 and places a heavy emphasis on aid to Ukraine.

President Joe Biden asked for $813 billion in defense spending for the 2023 fiscal year, already a bump up from last year’s funding, but the House bill adds $27 billion more to the administration's request.

As Russia's brutal attack on Ukraine wages on, the legislation provides a renewed commitment to NATO and proposed $1 billion in security assistance for the former Soviet nation.

Through the legislation, the House expresses congressional support for Finland and Sweden to join NATO and provides $225 million to an initiative that would develop integrated missile defense systems between the U.S. and Baltic states.

More than $138 billion from the act will go to defense research and development, including a boost to research projects at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The bill includes a 4.6% pay raise for military service members and civilian Department of Defense workers and allows the department to provide inflation bonus pay for members making $45,000 a year or less.

Congress is required to pass the mammoth legislation every year, a process that brings up both debate about national security as well as tacked-on policies that are often tangential or unrelated to the nation’s defense.

Over the course of the legislation's move through the House, the chamber considered more than 1,200 proposed amendments to the legislation.

The House eventually adopted a slew of amendments to the defense package, including a provision that would give the mayor of D.C. the authority to call in the National Guard. State governors all wield this power and expanding the mayor’s authority over National Guard forces became a hot topic in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack.

Another policy added to the bill would create a secure internal system for current and former military and government officials to report information about UFOs, with the goal of increasing inter-governmental transparency about the phenomena.

A separate amendment calls on the Military Justice Review Panel to evaluate the disparate impact of how the criminal justice system has enforced marijuana laws, largely affecting Black and brown communities, during their review of marijuana sentencing.

The House also approved an amendment allowing for a study on how MDMA and the psychedelic drug psilocybin could be used instead of opioids to medically treat members of the military.

Many last-minute additions to the bill could also have a substantial impact on U.S. foreign policy, including an amendment that limits arms sales to Saudi Arabia and requires reports on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated in 2018.

Another amendment added to the legislation on Thursday aims to bar the president from selling F-16 jets to Turkey, unless they can prove the move would be critical to national security.

At the NATO summit last month, Biden backed the U.S. sending jets to Turkey, but the House amendment could throw a wrench in the administration's plans.

Though Turkey is a NATO member, lawmakers backing the amendment cited concerns about accusations that Turkey has been violating Greece's airspace with warplanes.

Several amendments also aim to address climate change, including a provision that would require the Secretary of Defense to create a program to track and reduce Scope 3 emissions, emissions that result from production, transportation or product use and are not always factored into carbon footprint calculations.

The package also supports the creation of a Department of Defense research and development program that would work on creating a commercially viable electronic system that runs on biofuel.

Some proposed measures that were left out of the bill included a Republican-sponsored amendment to nix the Covid-19 vaccine requirements in the military.

While the House vote is a step forward in the yearly process of allocating defense spending, the Senate still has to hold a vote on its proposed defense package and the differences between the House and Senate bills will have to then be negotiated.

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