Largest Defense Bill in History Finally Gets Through Congress

Largest Defense Bill in History Finally Gets Through Congress


The Senate approved the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act late Wednesday and the House quickly followed suit Thursday morning, sending the sprawling $886 billion bill to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

Although there was some uncertainty in recent weeks about the fate of the bill, which defines national defense policy and authorizes defense spending, lawmakers were able to reach an agreement, maintaining a decades-long streak of passing the NDAA every year on a bipartisan basis dating back to 1961. The vote in the House was 310-118 in favor, with more Democrats (163) backing the bill than Republicans (147). In the Senate, the vote was 87-13.

Alabama Republican Rep. Mike D. Rogers, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, highlighted the bipartisan nature of the legislation. “This bill is a compromise,” he said, “but it’s a good compromise.”

Plenty of controversy: Lawmakers have been battling over the bill for months, with the House passing a version last summer that included controversial provisions touching on hot-button issues like abortion access and transgender health care in the military. Those provisions were largely stripped from the final bill, although a few of the culture-war elements remained, part of conservatives’ effort to end what they call “wokeness” in the Pentagon.

The watering down of the anti-wokeness provisions angered some conservatives in the House. Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy railed against the bill Thursday morning for failing to advance conservative priorities. “There is no justification for supporting a bill that does not materially change the direction of our military away from social engineering,” Roy said on the floor. “A vote for this bill is a perpetuation of the woke policies undermining our military, bringing down the morale, driving down recruiting and now undermining the civil liberties of the American people.”

A last-minute effort by Roy to adjourn the House before the NDAA vote could be held failed.

Another controversial measure in the bill revolved around the short-term reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which relates to a warrantless surveillance program. Critics on both the left and the right say the program violates privacy by allowing the government to eavesdrop on communications that could include American citizens, but national security officials say it’s an essential intelligence tool. The 2024 NDAA extends the program until mid-April.

Rep. Jim Himes, the House Intelligence Committee’s senior Democrat, called on lawmakers to allow Section 702 to continue while working on a better version. “By God, let’s reform it. But do not let it expire,” he said. “If it expires, Americans and allies will die."  (Read more about Section 702 here and here.)

What else is in the bill: The 2024 NDAA will keep the Pentagon and defense-related efforts at other agencies funded through the 2024 fiscal year, which began in October. Some highlights from the roughly 3,100-page bill:

* Authorizes $886 billion in defense spending, a roughly 3% increase from 2023;

* The topline figure breaks down into $168 billion for procurement, $145 billion for research and development, $289 billion for operations and maintenance, $216 billion for personnel, $17 billion for military construction, and $32 billion for nuclear programs.

*  Provides a 5.2% pay raise for service members, the largest boost in more than 20 years;

* As part of the strategic shift toward China, the bill authorizes $14.7 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which includes assistance for Taiwan;

* The bill prohibits the teaching of “critical race theory” in the military and eliminates the position of the Chief Diversity Officer at the Department of Defense. It also eliminates funding for the Countering Extremism Working Group, which Republicans say is “politically biased,” as well as funding for “drag shows, Drag Queen Story Hours, or similar events;”

* The cases of about 8,000 service members who were discharged from the military for refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine will be reviewed for possible reinstatement;

* The bill includes a measure that would prevent a U.S. president from unilaterally withdrawing from NATO.