GOP seeks to play hardball on annual defense bill
Republicans are looking to play hardball with the annual defense authorization bill to combat what they are calling “woke” military policies, threatening to throw a wrench into efforts to pass the bill by the end of the year.
The GOP lawmakers want to insert language into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to counter policies ranging from the military’s vaccine mandate to efforts to bring diversity and inclusion to the ranks — which they argue are weakening the military.
But Democrat lawmakers see the GOP gambit as posturing meant to whip up support ahead of a new Congress, in which Republicans will hold a slim majority in the House, and say it won’t disrupt their efforts to advance the NDAA in the days ahead.
What’s more, House leaders say the bill is moving ahead and soon, with a draft of negotiated legislation expected to be brought to the House floor early next week.
“That’s been a bit overblown,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), said of the NDAA drama when asked by The Hill.
He added that he and the other leaders of the two defense committees — including his ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I), and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), respectively — have “all been working towards getting it done and we’re going to do it next week.”
Rogers separately told The Hill that a draft of the negotiated bill should be brought to the floor by the House by Tuesday.
Asked Thursday about some of his GOP colleagues’ attempts to push the bill to next year, Rogers replied: “That’s not gonna happen.”
The NDAA, a measure seen as a must-pass for Congress every year, lays down a wide array of spending priorities and policy for the Defense Department. The mammoth legislation includes everything from the military’s annual pay raise to the funding of tanks, planes and ships to new programs and personnel policies, and has passed every year for six decades.
The House and Senate both passed its versions of the legislation earlier this year, and lawmakers from both chambers have since been reconciling the two different documents, this week striking a deal to set the budget top line of the fiscal 2023 NDAA at $847 billion. The figure jumps to $858 billion when including nuclear-related programs that fall under the Energy Department.
The bill is now in the hands of party leaders, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), earlier this week telling reporters he was “optimistic” the NDAA would be passed before Christmas. He added, however, there are issues in the bill that are “not necessarily national security related,” that may hold up the process.
On Friday Hoyer said there were still some “outstanding issues” in the legislation which prevented it from being filed as of this week, Politico reported.
Those issues may very well be tied to deciding which unrelated bills could be tacked onto the legislation.
There’s also been several, last-minute Republican efforts to stall, including a group of 20 GOP senators who this week demanded a full chamber vote on their proposal to end the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The senators on Wednesday threatened to withhold their votes to advance the NDAA if the chamber doesn’t vote on whether to end the shot order for service members, reinstate troops kicked out of the military for refusing the vaccine and awarding back pay to those dismissed.
It’s unclear whether lawmakers opposing the mandate will have enough members to effectively block the NDAA in the Senate, as no senior GOP leaders in the chamber have signed onto the idea as of Friday.
In the House, meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in late November urged his colleagues to delay the NDAA until next year when the GOP controls the House. The shift would give Republicans more leverage to address what they say is a “woke” culture within the Pentagon.
“I’ve watched what the Democrats have done on many of these things, especially in the NDAA — the ‘wokeism’ that they want to bring in there,” McCarthy said at Nov. 22 press conference. “I actually believe the NDAA should hold up until the first of the year, and let’s get it right.”
McCarthy didn’t specify which provisions in the bill he considers to be at issue, though Republicans on several occasions have promised to banish military policies decried as “woke” once their majority in Congress is regained.
The areas under fire include diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the military services and recent policy changes to allow different uniforms to accommodate pregnant service members or allow more hair style options for female troops and those of color, among other changes.
Also attacked are initiatives inaccurately labeled as pushing “critical race theory” and efforts to root out extremists in the ranks.
Democrats have since accused McCarthy of stirring the pot only as a stunt meant to win him support for the Speaker’s gavel.
McCarthy hopes to win the House speakership in the upcoming Jan. 3 vote on the position and needs all but three or four members of his conference to cast their ballot for him.
“I think there’s a lot of gamesmanship happening right now that’s all depending on the race,” House Armed Services Committee member Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), told The Hill.
“I think that the Republicans should really stop playing games as it’s going to potentially affect the pay raises for a lot of our members of the armed services,” Gallego said, adding that he believes it’s “a pretty bipartisan NDAA that came out” of negotiations.
“Let’s just finish this off,” he added.