House defense policy debate underway

Congress has passed a law for 60 straight years authorizing Pentagon programs

In the annual defense policy bill, Congress directs and authorizes Pentagon programs.  (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
In the annual defense policy bill, Congress directs and authorizes Pentagon programs. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
Posted September 22, 2021 at 2:36pm

The House began voting on amendments to the annual defense policy bill Wednesday, taking up six measures lawmakers debated the previous evening.

Members have more than 400 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act to consider, but only 20 of those will be debated on the floor. The vast majority will be grouped into four en bloc packages, likely signaling a lack of controversy or disagreement about them.

The House approved by voice vote the first en bloc package. Among the amendments was one introduced by Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., that would require the secretary of Defense to try to recover the aircraft that the U.S. provided to the Afghan Security Forces, many of which were flown out of the country as the Taliban seized control in August. Another, authored by Jason Crow, D-Colo., would authorize the creation of a memorial for veterans of the Global War on Terror on the National Mall.

With only one vote series scheduled for Wednesday, it looks like a vote on final passage won’t happen until Thursday at the earliest.

The six amendments receiving votes Wednesday include a measure sponsored by Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin that would require training for Defense Department medical providers on the likely health effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. The chemical was used extensively on many military bases in firefighting foam, creating potential health issues for those exposed and necessitating extensive clean up efforts. The measure was adopted 236-186.

Another amendment, introduced by Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., would strengthen the protections for servicemembers who are faced with medical debt by prohibiting debt collection for two years and barring medical debt from appearing on their credit reports. It was adopted 222-203.

Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., authored an amendment that eliminates a private student loan if the borrower dies or suffers a permanent and total disability. This amendment was adopted by a 219-204 vote, with four Republicans joining 215 Democrats in voting for the measure.

Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., offered an amendment that allows U.S. Virgin Islands nonimmigrant visitor visa waivers (as currently provided for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) for stays of up to 45 days. This amendment was adopted by a 235-190 vote.

The remaining two amendments, by Colorado Democrats Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse, address public lands issues and won approval 222-200 and 224-204 respectively.

Funding fight to come

Later Wednesday, the House will continue debate on amendments, including one introduced by Mark Pocan, D-Wis., with more than 20 cosponsors, that would reduce the Defense Department’s budget by 10 percent.

Another, from Barbara Lee, D-Calif., along with five other progressives, would limit the department’s funding to only what the Pentagon requested, thereby negating an additional $25 billion added by the House Armed Service Committee during its markup on Sept. 1.

Others look to curtail U.S. involvement in the conflict in Yemen by ending U.S. military support for Saudi units involved. There is also an amendment scheduled for debate that would prevent the Defense Department from transferring surplus equipment, especially weapons and ammunition, to domestic law enforcement agencies.

The NDAA has been enacted into law for 60 consecutive years, and barring any unforeseen controversies, the bill seems likely to pass the House this week.