House passes $768B defense policy bill

The House passed a compromise version of the annual defense policy bill on Tuesday amid a push to get the measure to President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE’s desk.

The lower chamber overwhelmingly passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 363-70 hours after the House and Senate Armed Services committees released the bill’s text.

Fifty-one Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against the bill.

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The measure now heads to the Senate, where recent efforts to pass the sweeping policy bill ran into snags amid disputes over which amendments would get floor votes. Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) said on Monday that he would instead bring the compromise to the floor for a vote.

The House previously passed its version of the bill by a bipartisan 316-113 vote in September, with 38 Democrats and 75 Republicans voting against the bill’s passage.

The compromise NDAA comes with a $768.2 billion top line, which includes $740 billion for the Department of Defense, $27.8 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy and $378 million for defense-related activities.

The numbers are higher than the nearly $753 billion Biden proposed for his national defense budget, of which $715 billion is for the Department of Defense.

The NDAA is a policy bill and does not authorize spending, meaning an appropriations bill would still need to be passed.

The measure also includes a 2.7 percent increase in military basic pay, which was recommended by the White House.

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The bill addresses a wide range of issues on lawmakers’ minds, including the U.S.'s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. To this, the measure directs the establishment of an independent commission to examine the U.S.'s 20-year conflict in Afghanistan.

The proposal also removes the commander from decisions to prosecute some crimes, including rape, sexual assault, murder, manslaughter and kidnapping. The legislation also criminalizes sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and requires all claims of sexual harassment to be investigated by an independent investigator outside the chain of command.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHillicon Valley — Shutterfly gets hacked Biden signs 8 billion defense bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Democrats spar over military justice reform MORE (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said military justice reform was “the single most important thing” in the bill.

“A stain on the military to this day is the fact that we have not adequately dealt with and protected the service members who have faced sexual crimes in the military,” Smith said. “This is the most transformational change that we have done on that issue.”

Republicans also hailed provisions of the bill that address the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate by including a provision mandating that any service member who declines to receive the COVID-19 vaccine only receive an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions.

But notably absent from the compromise is a provision that would have required women to register for the draft. Both the House and Senate armed services panels voted to include language to expand the draft in the respective versions of the NDAA earlier this year.

Politico, which first reported the move, reported that the provision had been dropped so that Republicans could sign on to larger military justice reform.

The compromise also leaves out legislation that would have an Office for Countering Extremism in the Pentagon. That provision was included in the NDAA the House passed in September.

However, the compromise requires the Department of Defense to submit a report on adding violent extremism to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

“We did what we said we were going to do, no dishonorable discharge is for service members who refuse the vaccine,” said Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.). “We killed and buried the dangerous office of domestic extremism.”