Senate approves sweeping defense bill

The Senate on Wednesday passed a sweeping defense policy bill on an 88-11 vote, ending a weeks-long standoff that had stalled work on the legislation. 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending top lines and policy for the Pentagon, passed the House last week and now goes to President Biden’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it. 

“For the past six years, Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to pass an annual defense authorization act without fail. … With so many priorities to balance, I thank my colleagues for working hard over these last few months, both in committee and off the floor, to get NDAA done,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

The initial vote on the measure was 89-10, but in an unusual move Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) came back to the Senate floor to ask to switch his vote from “yes” to “no.” 

The $768.2 billion bill provides $740 billion for the Department of Defense. Both chambers agreed to add $25 billion more than what President Biden requested for fiscal 2022 for the defense budget.

It also includes $27.8 billion for defense-related activities in the Department of Energy and another $378 million for other defense-related activities.

The defense bill also includes a major overhaul of how the military prosecutes certain crimes, including military sexual assault. The bill strips commanders of most of their authority, but they would still be allowed to conduct trials, pick jury members, approve witnesses and grant immunity.

The changes were not enough for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who had been pressing to completely remove commanders from the chain of command in these instances and let independent military prosecutors handle them.

Gillibrand has called for a vote on her original proposal, arguing that the authority the commander still has under the NDAA does not bring about true independence.

As part of the final agreement, lawmakers dropped a provision from the bill that would have required women to register for the selective service. The provision had garnered pushback from some Republicans, who didn’t want to require women to register, while some progressives pushed for ending the draft altogether. 

The bill also does not include a deal to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Iraq War authorizations worked out by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.). A failure to reach a larger agreement on the amendments that would be considered to the legislation torpedoed the Iraq War provisions. The setback effectively punts the issue to 2022, even though the Kaine-Young deal had enough support to get past a filibuster. 

An effort to impose sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline also didn’t get into the bill. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) had been expected to get an amendment vote, despite opposition from the administration, but the amendment deal was blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who wanted his own proposal in the legislation. 

The Senate previously passed bipartisan legislation from Rubio on banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where administration officials have accused the government of carrying out genocide against the predominately Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority. But Rubio wanted to get his bill into the defense legislation as an amendment or to force action in the House where it had languished for months. 

Though Rubio didn’t work out a deal on his legislation in time for breaking the stalemate on the defense bill, he and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) announced this week that they had cut an agreement. 

The NDAA also includes a provision that would prohibit the Pentagon from using funds for certain procurements from China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing has come under fire for human rights abuses against the Uyghur population.

“The United States is so reliant on China that we have turned a blind eye to the slave labor that makes our clothes, our solar panels, and much more,” Rubio said. “It is time to end our economic addiction to China.”

Updated at 1:55 p.m.

Tags Charles Schumer China Cory Booker Jim Risch Joe Biden Kirsten Gillibrand Marco Rubio NDAA Ted Cruz Tim Kaine Todd Young
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