WASHINGTON ― The House passed a new compromise defense policy bill and sent it to the Senate Tuesday in a step toward extending the bill’s 60-year streak.
The House voted 363-70 to approve the National Defense Authorization Act, which was finalized earlier in the day by negotiators with the House and Senate Armed Services committees. The “no” votes came from 19 Republicans and 51 Democrats.
Now the bill heads to the Senate, where there’s some bipartisan resistance to military justice reform provisions weakened during negotiations. It’s unclear whether the Senate, like the House, will approve the bill without considering more amendments.
But with the House scheduled to leave for the rest of the year on Friday, lawmakers have a narrow window if they want to send the defense bill to the president’s desk during 2021.
The bill finalized Tuesday authorizes $768 billon for national defense, of which $28 billion funds Energy Department nuclear weapons programs. It was negotiated by leaders of the two Armed Services committees, who met in an informal conference committee after the Senate failed to pass the defense bill before Thanksgiving.
The bill authorizes $25 billion more than the Biden administration’s budget request. In there are 12 F/A-18 Super Hornets that were not requested; five more Boeing F-15EX jets than the request for 17 total; and 13 ships total ― including two attack submarines and two destroyers ― for five more than the request.
The bill has been passed 60 years in a row, and defense lawmakers warned that failing to clear the bill this year would stymy Pentagon modernization efforts in the face of China’s growing military might.
“There are a whole bunch of provisions in this bill to help push the Pentagon in the correct direction, to help make sure that we give them the help they need. Or in some cases the push they need to adapt the technology is going to move us in better direction,” said HASC Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash.
The panel’s top Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers, pointed to the bill’s higher top line, which he and other Republicans sought, as well as its forward-leaning investments.
“It also begins divesting in legacy systems that will not help us deter future threats,” said Rogers of Alabama. “Instead, it invests in new technologies like [artificial intelligence], hypersonics, and quantum computing that will help us stay ahead of our adversaries.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is leading a small, bipartisan group that is unhappy with compromise military justice provisions after pushing for stronger reforms to combat sexual assault in the ranks. They’re calling for their reform bill, which previously garnered strong support in both chambers, to get a new vote in the Senate.
Asked whether that dissatisfaction would damage the bill’s chances in the Senate, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., touted the bill’s compromise military justice language as “the most significant … in decades,” as well as the bill’s 2.7% pay raise for troops, “robust” military construction budget and emphasis on military research and development.
“If you look at the spectrum, it’s what I think an NDAA below should be: Protect our forces, equip our forces as a deterrent for any kind of conflict,” he said.
Still, Reed declined to say Tuesday afternoon whether he believed the bill could garner the 60 votes it needs in the Senate.
“We are, I think, in good shape and continue to work,” he said.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.
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