House passes major defense policy bill

Members voted down proposals to reduce authorized spending

Flight deck personnel work near an F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter aircraft aboard the USS Nimitz in 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images file photo)
Flight deck personnel work near an F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter aircraft aboard the USS Nimitz in 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images file photo)
Posted September 23, 2021 at 4:14pm, Updated at 9:30pm

The House passed, 316-113, its version of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act Thursday after sifting through hundreds of amendments, setting the stage for the $768 billion measure to be enacted into law. 

Debate on the bill began Tuesday and stretched into Thursday night as lawmakers debated and voted on 476 amendments on everything from the proper level of U.S. defense spending to how best to handle the Afghanistan war's fallout.

The mammoth bill that outlines, but does not appropriate, the Pentagon’s spending for the coming fiscal year is considered a must-pass piece of legislation that has been enacted annually for the past 60 years. 

The amendments considered on Thursday comprised a number of divisive issues, including attempts to scale back the Defense Department’s budget and limit U.S. military involvement in conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

The House rejected an amendment from New York Democrat Jamaal Bowman that would have required congressional approval for any troop presence in Syria within a year of enactment. The tally was 141-286, with 99 Democrats joining 187 Republicans in opposing the measure.

The House adopted, 219-207, a provision introduced by Ro Khanna, D-Calif., that would end logistical support to Saudi airplanes involved in strikes against the Houthis in Yemen and stop the United States from providing intelligence to Saudi forces that enable the strikes. Another amendment, introduced by Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., would end U.S. maintenance and sustainment of Saudi aircraft involved in strikes in Yemen. It was adopted by a vote of 223-204.

Bid to reduce authorized spending rejected

Two amendments from the progressive wing of the Democratic caucus took aim at the Defense Department’s budget. One, led by Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, would have trimmed the Pentagon’s budget by 10 percent, but was voted down 86-332.

The other, spearheaded by Barbara Lee of California, was rejected 142-286. It would have limited the defense budget to the amount requested by the Biden administration, effectively stripping out $25.5 billion added by the Armed Services Committee when it marked up the bill earlier this month.

John Garamendi, D-Calif., who is a member of Armed Services, had an amendment that would have blocked funding for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, program, the replacement intercontinental ballistic missile under development to replace aging Minuteman III missiles. Garamendi’s amendment would have also blocked funding for the W87-1 warhead, which is the warhead slotted to be deployed in the GBSD. The amendment was defeated on a 118-299 vote. 

Lawmakers also rejected an amendment, 198-231, introduced by Hank Johnson, D-Ga., that would have curtailed the transfer of military equipment, particularly weapons and ammunition, to domestic law enforcement agencies. Under the transfer program, the Law Enforcement Support Office has distributed $7.4 billion worth of surplus military equipment from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ranging from Humvees and helicopters to guns and ammunition.

Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., offered an amendment that would have limited the Pentagon’s unfunded priority lists to only the six service branches of the military and U.S. Special Operations Command. Those lists, called Pentagon “wish lists,” contain programs considered not critical enough to make the president’s budget — but they have become a de facto part of it and often ask for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of authorizations. Schrader’s amendment was defeated on a 167-256 vote.

An amendment offered by Jim Langevin, D-R.I., that would provide for special immigrant status for "essential" scientists and technical experts, was adopted, 225-187. 

Most of the amendments were bundled together into four en bloc packages, which were adopted easily. 

The NDAA typically enjoys broad bipartisan support, and this year’s measure was no different.

Up next is Senate consideration of a version of the bill its Armed Services Committee approved in July. Presuming the Senate passes it, a House-Senate conference will reconcile differences before both chambers vote on sending the bill to President Joe Biden.