House of Representatives approves defense bill, approving it for Biden

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On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly approved an $886 billion defense bill, authorizing the measure for President Biden after overcoming a far-right revolt over the exclusion of restrictions they had sought on access to the abortion, transgender care, and racial diversity and inclusion policies at the Pentagon.

The 310-118 vote reflected the bipartisan nature of the bill, which won support from a majority of Democrats and Republicans despite open opposition from hardliners, who staged a last-minute rebellion in the House. to try to block his path. Biden is expected to sign the measure into law, maintaining Washington's six-decade streak of annual approval of military policy legislation.

This year's defense bill authorizes a 5.2 percent pay increase for service members and civilian Pentagon employees. It also invests in a variety of measures to improve competition with Russia and China, including an expansion of regional partnerships in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, the development of hypersonic weapons and nuclear arsenal upgrades.

The bill puts a submarine deal at the center of a new security partnership with Britain and Australia known as AUKUS, and directs hundreds of millions of dollars to shipping weapons to Ukraine and Israel. It does not resolve the larger question of whether Congress will approve tens of billions of dollars in emergency funding for the two countries' war efforts as part of a $110.5 billion spending bill that has stalled in the Congress, in the midst of a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over the allocation of funds. measures to suppress migration across the United States border with Mexico.

It would also extend until 2025 a program that allows the intelligence community to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign individuals outside the United States. The program has been criticized for the way the FBI has handled Americans' private messages.

“It takes compromise to pass legislation in divided government, and this bill is a good compromise,” Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said on the floor. “It's focused on deterring our adversaries, especially China.”

But many conservatives were outraged by the compromise, which ruled out several social policy measures on hot-button cultural issues they had sought. Over the summer, right-wing lawmakers pressured the House GOP to load the bill with measures to close military diversity, equity and inclusion offices; ban health services for transgender people; and outlaw drag shows on military bases.

The version passed by the House also would have repealed a policy that provided paid time off and transportation reimbursement to service members who needed to travel long distances to obtain abortions or fertility care. The Pentagon adopted the abortion access policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leading to a patchwork of laws across the country that could leave military personnel with unequal access to such services depending on where they were based.

The Senate bill did not include any of those provisions, and in bipartisan talks between the two chambers to resolve differences over the legislation, they were removed.

Soldiers are “frustrated by the situation, when our military is becoming an experiment in social engineering instead of committing to its primary function, which is defending this country,” argued Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, in the House of Representatives on Wednesday night, appealing to his colleagues to reject the compromise bill.

Ultimately, seventy-three Republicans opposed the bill, along with 45 Democrats. But with strong bipartisan support, proponents were able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to speed passage through the House under special fast-track rules for uncontroversial bills.

Democrats agreed to some items on the GOP's priority list as part of the deal. The legislation imposes a salary cap on positions dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion training, which is expected to force the reassignment of several senior officials. Bans the teaching of critical race theory in military schools. It also establishes a review board to consider the reinstatement of service members who were discharged for refusing to obey the military's now-defunct Covid vaccine mandate, and establishes a special inspector general to oversee how the aid has been used. United States to Ukraine.

“You can't oppose this bill and claim to support the national security of this country,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the military panel. “Because this bill represents that bipartisan commitment that we worked toward to get a good bill that meets our national security needs.”

Opposition to the bill was also fueled by the last-minute addition of a provision extending a warrantless surveillance program that is about to expire into next year. The program, created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, allows the government to wiretap foreign targets outside the United States.

It has come under intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill, from both Republicans and Democrats, because the communications of Americans in contact with such foreign targets are often collected during wiretaps, and there is widespread evidence that U.S. officials FBI have improperly probed that information.

When Congress returns to Washington in January, the House is expected to resume a very intense debate over whether and how to reform the program. Leaders have argued that the extension of the defense bill, which would push the program's expiration date back to mid-April, is simply a band-aid to give Congress more time to have that debate.

But the way Congress wrote the statute, even the short-term extension would allow the secret surveillance court to extend wiretap authority until April 2025, a fact that led conservative Republicans and many liberal Democrats, who during have long warned about the dangers of the program. , to call for the rejection of the defense bill.

“It is extremely, extremely important that we do everything we can to make sure that we do not pass a FISA in this House that does not protect the American people,” Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, argued on the House floor. “We cannot continue to allow them to spy on the American people, to surveil them, without a warrant.”

Proponents of expanding surveillance powers argued that they must be preserved to protect the United States from terrorist attacks.

“For God's sake, let's reform it, but let's not let it expire,” said Rep. Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. “If it expires, Americans and their allies will die.”



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