The Senate approves a defense bill, avoiding far-right political dictates


The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved an $886 billion defense bill that would set Pentagon policy and provide a 5.2 percent pay raise for military personnel, defying demands from far-right Republicans. who had tried, unsuccessfully, to impose a series of deeply partisan restrictions on abortion. , attention to transgender people and diversity initiatives.

The vote was 87-13 to approve the legislation, which would expand the Defense Department's ability to compete with China and Russia on hypersonic and nuclear weapons, implement components of a key Indo-Pacific security partnership with Britain and Australia , and would direct hundreds of millions of dollars. of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine and Israel. The Ukraine and Israel programs authorized by the bill are distinct from a $111 billion spending bill to send additional weapons to those countries, among other spending, that is currently stalled in Congress.

The defense bill would also extend through 2025 a program that allows the intelligence community to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign individuals located outside the United States, which has come under scrutiny because of how the FBI has handled communications. of Americans in contact with targeted foreigners.

Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate have defended the bill as a fair compromise that prioritizes competition with adversaries and demonstrates support for allies. Some argued it was a particularly important message to send to the world at a time when Republicans have blocked Congressional efforts to approve tens of billions of dollars in emergency military aid for Ukraine and Israel, insisting that it be combined with an offensive against migration on the border with the United States. with Mexico.

“Passing the defense authorization bill is more important than ever,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, said Wednesday, condemning the GOP for its refusal to approve additional war funding. . The defense bill, he added, was the product of “precisely the kind of bipartisan cooperation the American people want from Congress.”

The measure, the result of bipartisan negotiations between the two chambers, has sparked a backlash in the House, where many Republicans are angry at their leaders for agreeing to eliminate a series of provisions that hardliners implemented over the summer.

Among the provisions removed from the final compromise was a measure to repeal a policy of providing paid time off and transportation reimbursement for service members who must travel to obtain an abortion or other forms of reproductive health care. The Pentagon implemented the policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, creating a patchwork of abortion laws across the country.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, spent most of this year blocking military promotions in protest before lifting most of his block last week.

Proposals Republicans pushed in the House to ban transgender health care, diversity training for officials and drag shows were also scrapped from the final bill.

“If you are pro-life, against racial division, against taxpayer-funded transgender surgeries, against drag shows… oppose this swamp bill,” wrote Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, in a social media post .

The House is expected to vote on the legislation Thursday under expedited procedures that give opponents fewer chances to derail it but will require a two-thirds majority for passage. Leaders hope it will pass with the support of a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.

But Republican senators weren't taking it for granted. On Wednesday, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee urged House conservatives to support the bill, arguing that it contained GOP victories.

Among the provisions he highlighted were a salary cap for diversity officers that would force the Pentagon to eliminate some high-level positions dedicated to such initiatives and a new special inspector general to oversee how U.S. military assistance is used in Ukraine. Republicans have accused the Biden administration of failing to offer them assurances that weapons being sent to Ukraine do not fall into the wrong hands.

“The IG provision should be enough to allay anyone's concerns that the money is being wasted,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, told reporters Wednesday, adding that he was “pleased that we are getting some credit of the majority of the base over some victories.”

Right-wing Republicans are also outraged by the extension of the warrantless surveillance program. Liberal Democrats have long harbored privacy concerns about the program, which was created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and many Republicans have turned against it by becoming hostile toward the FBI. and complained about a federal government “armed” against conservatives.

Last month, more than 50 Republicans and Democrats signed a letter indicating their opposition to expanding the program without significant changes. The defense bill would extend the program until April 19, but due to a quirk of the statute, that could allow a secret intelligence court to maintain it until April 2025.

Earlier this week, Speaker Mike Johnson's plan to have the House vote on two competing bills to reform the surveillance program collapsed amid fierce Republican infighting, ruling out any resolution on how or whether to change the program. in the new year.

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