Defense Policy Bill Sets Up Test for Speaker Johnson

Defense Policy Bill Sets Up Test for Speaker Johnson

REUTERS/The Fiscal Times

Negotiations between the House and Senate on the annual defense policy bill reportedly got bogged down this week by partisan differences over hot-button issues.

“With a battle over the annual spending bills postponed until January, the National Defense Authorization Act is one of the few must-pass spending bills left on the agenda. But it’s in real danger of getting stuck,” The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reported Thursday morning.

Among the key issues causing clashes: Pentagon policies on abortion-related travel expenses, diversity and transgender care as well as a separate push to reauthorize federal surveillance authority. “Senate and House conservatives are warning congressional leaders not to add a short-term surveillance authorization to the bill, and they are demanding it include significant military policy reforms,” Bolton reported.

Those conservatives are reportedly losing patience with Speaker Mike Johnson, and the negotiated defense policy bill is expected to test the Republican leader’s standing with his most hardline members.

“Johnson, now in his second month on the job, is already taking heat from conservatives over government funding, Ukraine aid and other issues. But the Louisiana Republican will soon have to sell his conference on a compromise National Defense Authorization Act that’s certain to be less conservative than the version the House passed this summer,” Politico’s Connor O’Brien and Joe Gould reported Friday. “When the text of the bill is out, conservatives will judge the legislation by whether the culture war provisions they pushed to include — including limits to the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, funding for medical treatment for transgender troops and military diversity programs — made it into the final product.”

The bottom line: Squabbling over the details of the NDAA this year means that the must-pass bill likely won’t be finalized until next week and could threaten Johnson’s standing with conservatives demanding some policy wins. “I expect Mike to do his level best to get the most conservative bill he can get,” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, told Politico, which notes that the slim GOP majority means that just a handful of far-right Republicans can bring legislative action to a halt. But Congress has passed the NDAA for 62 years in a row, and a bill pushed through with bipartisan backing may still be the likely outcome.