September 24, 2023
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA

House Armed Services passes $874 billion defense bill targeting diversity, culture issues

House Armed Services passes $874 billion defense bill targeting diversity, culture issues

The House Armed Services Committee cleared the first major hurdle in the annual defense policy bill, passing the legislation on a 58-1 bipartisan vote despite contentious battles over amendments attacking diversity programs and other cultural issues at the Pentagon.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which will head to the full House floor later this year for debate, sticks to the $874 billion budget request from President Biden, which was kept intact by the debt ceiling bill reached with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

It includes a major pay raise for service members, programs and initiatives to counter China, and $300 million to support Ukraine, among other funding needs across the military.

But the draft NDAA, which passed just after midnight Thursday after roughly 14 hours of debate and voting, also includes several amendments targeting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and other cultural issues. Those measures led to hours of infighting Wednesday between Republicans and Democrats on the committee.

The GOP is touting the bill as a major win against programs they object to at the Pentagon.

“We bleed green and fight for the same flag,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla) said in a tweet. “DoD should be mission and merit-focused, not focused on turning our ranks against each other based on skin color.”

One amendment from Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) forces the Biden administration to conduct a review of how transgender policies have affected service members.

Banks also successfully passed his amendment to ban the Navy’s Digital Ambassadorship program after a service member who moonlights as a drag queen was criticized by the GOP for participating in it.

Another, from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), prohibits the Pentagon from funding drag shows. Gaetz also offered an amendment to eliminate the Defense Department’s (DOD) chief diversity officer.

And Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) mustered through a provision creating a parental bill of rights for service members who put their children through military-affiliated schools — an amendment that her Democratic colleagues called overly broad and a Trojan horse to allow conservative parents to ban books or prevent certain material from being taught in school. 

“It was made very clear by the sponsor of the amendment that she’s going after trans education and sex education. There is a very narrow conservative agenda and this amendment wants to empower parents to dictate that agenda into the schools in a more effective manner,” ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said.

Republicans also passed several amendments to aid service members who were kicked out of the military for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine and to eliminate the use of critical race theory — an academic framework evaluating U.S. history through the lens of racism that has become a political catch-all buzzword for any race-related teaching — at military service academies.

Some conservative proposals did get shot down, however. The committee rejected an amendment from Gaetz to halt funding for DEI training and declined to pass another from Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.) that would defund the Pentagon’s deputy inspector general for diversity and extremism in the military.

Despite the repeated clash over cultural issues between Democrats and Republicans, only Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) voted against sending the NDAA to the full House floor.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) championed the bill as bipartisan and praised it for including “provisions that counter China’s aggression, boost oversight of the Department of Defense, and support our servicemembers and their families.”

“Additionally, this year’s bill saves taxpayers billions of dollars while still making critical investments in innovative technologies and our defense industrial base,” Rogers said in a statement.

Still, the bill’s controversial amendments are likely to face more hurdles when it comes to the full House floor.

Smith in a statement said he is “not supportive of everything in this bill.”

“As we prepare to bring the NDAA to the House floor, we will continue to advocate for the priorities and values that make our military stronger and America safer, including ensuring that we have the most diverse, talented pool of individuals to recruit and retain to our Armed Forces,” he said.

Democrats did achieve some wins, passing an amendment to prohibit the Pentagon from purchasing cookware, uniforms, personal care products and other products that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl, known as forever chemicals. 

On the national security level, Democrats feuded with Republicans on an amendment from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) to create a program for the SLCM-N, a sea-launched cruise missile.

Biden’s budget did not include continued funding for SLCM-N, considered a “tactical” naval weapon as a low-yield, non-ballistic nuclear missile. 

Supporters say it creates more options for the Navy to deter foreign adversaries, while opponents argue the nuclear capability was not necessary and could impact U.S. submarines traveling to international ports. The amendment passed.

The NDAA also passed without any changes to language that would restrict funding for construction and leasing projects for U.S. Space Command until a final decision is made on the combat command’s headquarters. The bill also slashes the Air Force secretary’s travel budget in half until a decision is made.

Alabama Republicans are upset that the Biden administration has delayed a planned Space Command relocation from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Huntsville, Ala., and may scrap the plan entirely over concerns about abortion restrictions.

As the bill heads to the House floor, it’s expected that Republicans will further try to chip away at the Pentagon’s policies made under the Biden administration that fall within the cultural wars raging across the country.

Among those is an anticipated amendment to reverse a DOD policy that reimburses travel expenses for service members who seek an abortion outside the state they are based.

And Ukraine funding is also sure to be targeted, with Gaetz vowing to file floor amendments to “strip as much of this Ukraine money out of this bill as possible.”

This content was originally published here.

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