OAN’s Brooke Mallory
1:48 PM – Friday, December 15, 2023
A typically bipartisan endeavor became polarized when the Senate approved a defense policy bill on Wednesday that authorizes the largest pay increase for troops in over 20 years while simultaneously eliminating many of the policy goals that conservatives had been demanding.
After passing radically different versions of the measure in both Houses in July, lawmakers have been working on a final version for months. In order to bring the final product across the finish line, negotiators removed several of the conservative demands that were “unacceptable” to Democrats.
By a vote of 87–13, the Senate approved the measure. It now moves to the House, where opponents have expressed their concerns more outspokenly.
The measure does not contain language that would have restricted access to “gender-affirming care” for transgender service members and their families and it did not include verbiage to insinuate that the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy would be blocked.
However, in regards to diversity and inclusion training in the military, Republicans triumphed in winning some compromises. For instance, the measure prohibits employment for diversity and inclusion training unless all programs and expenses have been fully recorded and submitted to Congress.
The bill also establishes important Pentagon policies, which legislators will try to pay for with an additional appropriations bill. The bill’s 5.2% rise in service member pay, the largest increase in over 20 years, was emphasized by lawmakers. For the current fiscal year, which started on October 1st, the bill allocates $886 billion for national military initiatives, which is about 3% higher than the previous year.
The bill would ensure “America’s military remains state of the art at all times all around the world,” according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
A short-term extension of a monitoring program with the goal of stopping terrorism and apprehending spies is also included in the law. However, critics of the program from both political parties also see it as a danger in some ways regarding the privacy of Americans.
The renewal keeps in place a program that enables the U.S. government to get foreign information by intercepting communications from non-U.S. citizens abroad without obtaining a warrant.
According to U.S. authorities, the tool, which was initially approved in 2008 and has subsequently been extended a number of times, is essential for thwarting cyber attacks, terror attacks, and other threats to national security.
However, the administration has also faced significant resistance from both parties in its attempts to get the program reauthorized. Longtime civil rights advocate Democrat Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has teamed up with former President Donald Trump’s Republican backers to demand more privacy safeguards for Americans and has put forth a number of rival measures.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) was obliged to schedule a vote on the military policy measure using a procedure usually designated for noncontroversial legislation, since there is now enough opposition within the GOP ranks. Going that path eliminates the possibility of a few Republicans opposing the measure through a procedural vote, but it will require the support of at least two-thirds of the House to pass.
Although a procedure like this would make the measure easier to pass, Johnson might lose favor with some of the House’s most conservative members.
Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) learned recently that it just takes a few Republicans to effectively shut down House business or to end a speaker’s term, since eight Republicans had just teamed up with Democrat members to remove him from office.
The White House urged for a swift passage of the defense bill, saying it “provides the critical authorities we need to build the military required to deter future conflicts while supporting the servicemembers and their spouses and families who carry out that mission every day.”
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