By Tom Ozimek
The House on Friday passed a sweeping annual defense bill that includes GOP-led amendments to restrict abortion coverage and transgender procedures, and eliminate diversity initiatives at the Pentagon.
Most Democrats voted against the measure, called the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024, as did four Republicans, with the bill clearing the lower chamber in a narrowly bipartisan 219–210 vote.
The measure was approved by the House Armed Services Committee in a nearly unanimous vote just weeks ago but drew controversy among liberal-minded lawmakers when Republicans added provisions restricting diversity and inclusion initiatives at the Department of Defense (DOD), and curbing services related to abortion and sex changes.
“We are continuing to block the Biden Administration’s ‘woke’ agenda,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), at a press conference with her conservative colleagues ahead of Friday’s vote.
The final bill includes various routine provisions, such as bolstering America’s nuclear deterrent and missile defense.
But it also includes a range of “culture war” issues, including repealing the DOD’s abortion travel policy, which reimburses expenses for service members who travel to obtain an abortion from a state where it’s restricted to a state where such procedures are allowed.
The Republican-led amendments also prohibit Pentagon health care programs from providing sex reassignment surgeries and gender hormone treatments for transgender individuals, and from providing gender transition procedures through a program designed for special-needs family members.
Republicans also introduced various changes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at the Pentagon, including a measure that bars the DOD’s educational arm from buying books containing pornographic material or that “espouses radical gender ideology.” The changes also prohibit DOD schools from teaching that the United States or its founding are racist.
Passage of the bill in the House sets up a showdown in the Democrat-led Senate, with many pundits predicting an uphill battle.
Democrats widely denounced the bill, accusing Republicans of hijacking what’s normally a bipartisan defense spending measure to push “culture war” issues.
In a joint leadership statement, Democrats said they were voting against the bill because House Republicans “turned what should be a meaningful investment in our men and women in uniform into an extreme and reckless legislative joyride.”
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have chosen to hijack the historically bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act to continue attacking reproductive freedom and jamming their right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people,” said the statement from Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), and Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).
On the other side of the aisle, there was praise for the final version of the bill. Boebert, in a statement, said that she was proud to vote for the measure as it contains “enormous wins for national security.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, avoided commenting on the controversial items in the measure, instead focusing on the bill’s provisions that bolster missile defense and modernize the nation’s nuclear deterrent, among other features.
“The NDAA provides our warfighters with the resources and authorities they need to provide for the defense of our nation. This legislation is vital as our nation is faced with unprecedented threats from our adversaries,” Rogers said in a statement.
The $886 billion defense package includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for service members and incorporates measures aimed at addressing the challenges posed by China, highlighting the importance of strategic considerations in national defense planning.
“The threat we face from China is the most pressing national security threat we’ve faced in decades – the FY24 NDAA is laser-focused on countering China. The FY24 NDAA protects our homeland from threats by investing in a stronger missile defense and modernizing our nuclear deterrent. The legislation also boosts innovation and revitalizes the industrial base to ensure they can deliver the systems we need to prevail in any conflict,” Rogers said.
The bill includes $842 billion for the Pentagon and $32 billion for nuclear programs at the Energy Department.
The four Democrat lawmakers who supported the bill are Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine), Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.), Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez (D-Wash.) and Don Davis (D-N.C.).
The four GOP lawmakers who opposed the bill are Reps. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee, led by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the lead Democrat on the committee, went from supporting the bill to opposing it once the various social policy amendments were added.
In a statement, Smith lamented that the bill that passed with overwhelming support out of the Armed Services Committee “no longer exists. What was once an example of compromise and functioning government has become an ode to bigotry and ignorance.”
Friday’s voted capped a tumultuous week for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), as conservatives essentially drove the agenda, forcing their colleagues to consider their proposals for the must-pass bill.