It's time for the left to advance a shared vision of national security: Start by passing the NDAA
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For the last 58 years, Democrats and Republicans have come together to pass the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This week, that important track record risks an unfortunate end. Republicans, smarting from Democrats’ refusal to include funding in the NDAA for the president’s border wall, have largely refused to back the bill—only two House Republicans supported the measure during the committee’s marathon markup last month.

With the Republicans sitting on the sidelines, it will be up to centrist and progressive Democrats alike to support the NDAA. Without unity in the House, their bill won’t pass—meaning that the far less appealing and Senate Republican majority-authored bill would become the only version brought to a vote. The NDAA is a bill that a number of members of the House Progressive Caucus have historically rejected on principle, but voting to support this NDAA is an opportunity for Democrats across the spectrum to lead with our values and show Americans that our party is united in support of strong, principled national security policies.

After all, there is plenty for progressives to like about the bill’s numerous amendments. Among them is a bipartisan amendment offered by Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaThe DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo This week: Senate barrels toward showdown on impeachment witnesses Warren calls for Brazil to drop charges against Glenn Greenwald MORE (D-Calif.) to prohibit federal funds from being used for any military action against Iran without congressional authorization, as well as an amendment offered by Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierSenator-jurors who may not be impartial? Remove them for cause Poll: 69 percent of Americans say they are watching impeachment closely The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment face-off; Dems go after Buttigieg in debate MORE (D-Calif.) to overturn President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense MORE’s hateful transgender ban. There is also an amendment offered by Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Wash.), which, among its provisions, includes language authored by Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyHouse passes bill aimed at bolstering Holocaust education Government privacy watchdog under pressure to recommend facial recognition ban House Oversight committee asks DHS for information on family separation MORE (D-N.Y.) that guarantees all federal employees an historic 12 weeks of paid family leave.


The bill authorizes a commission on how to strengthen Department of Defense research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities that recognizes the need to diversify our national security workforce. It also allocates significant science and technology funding at a time when the Trump administration has made arterial cuts on these issues across numerous federal agencies. And it includes a raft of progressive climate change language like planning and budgeting for climate resiliency, plus a call to factor sea level rise projections into building standards.

On top of all of this—and unlike the Senate version—the House NDAA prevents the use of money for a border wall.

To be sure, the NDAA authorizes an extremely robust defense budget at $733 billion. Still, this is shy of the president’s $750 billion request—a $17 billion cut of wasteful funding for projects not included in the Department of Defense’s original planning, including the $7.2 billion in border wall funding. Any Democrat disinclined to vote for the House NDAA will have to accept that a version of this bill is going to become law—it will either be this one, addressing a range of progressive priorities, or the Senate’s far less comprehensive approach.

The House NDAA is a chance to fight back against the Trump administration’s repeated body blows to numerous cornerstones of progressive national security, from the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement to the breaking of our commitments under the Iran nuclear deal. Accordingly, this version of the bill is the best chance the Democrats have to push back on these reckless moves, while also advancing a progressive vision of national security and drawing a clear distinction on defense matters with this president as we head into 2020.

In short, the need for Democrats across the spectrum to compromise on this bill is clear. Doing so gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that being tough on national security is synonymous with advancing smart, inclusive policies intent on restoring American leadership rather than squandering it.

Jenna Ben-Yehuda is the president and CEO of Truman National Security Project and founder of the Women’s Foreign Policy Network.