Friday 16 December 2022

The Senate Just Passed A Major Defense Bill. Here’s What’s In It

 The Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Thursday, sending the $847 billion package to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill passed 83-11, with six Democrats and five Republicans opposing final passage. The legislation, named for outgoing Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James Inhofe of Oklahoma, allocates $816 billion to the Department of Defense and $30 billion to the Department of Energy. Here’s what’s in it:

Rescinded Vaccine Mandate

The NDAA eliminates the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Roughly 8,400 service members have been discharged for refusing the shot since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the mandate in 2021, according to data provided by the Pentagon. The bill does not reinstate those service members, and an amendment doing so proposed by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas failed 40-54.

Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford placed a hold on DOD nominees in response to the agency’s refusal to provide information about religious exemption requests for the vaccines. He voted in favor of the Johnson-Cruz amendment and in favor of the bill as a whole.

“The questions have just not been answered,” Lankford told reporters of the DOD’s religious exemption process. “Even at times some chaplains have reached out for an exemption, and they haven’t heard back.”

Pay Raise For Service Members

The NDAA raises service member and DOD civilian employee pay by 4.6%, which is their largest raise in 20 years. Veterans previously received an 8.7% increase in their pensions, a cost-of-living adjustment announced by the Social Security Administration in October.

Foreign Aid

The bill includes as an amendment the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act, which allocates up to $10 billion in military aid for Taiwan to be distributed over a five-year period. In order to receive the aid, Taiwan must increase its own defense spending. The NDAA also allocates $800 million to Ukraine. Congress could spend up to $40 billion more on aid for Ukraine by the end of the 117th Congress, since President Joe Biden requested that $37 billion more for the war-torn country be included in the FY2023 full government funding package.

OUT: Permitting Reform

Senators rejected including Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s permitting reform bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act, in a 47-47 vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York promised Manchin that he would pass the bill in exchange for Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act, but left-wing members threatened revolts on several must-pass bills and Republicans refused to support the package.

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