Battle Over 'Woke' Policies Threatens Defense Bill

Battle Over 'Woke' Policies Threatens Defense Bill

The annual bill setting Pentagon policy is not done yet.
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, December 1, 2023

Good evening. The nation lost Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court, who died Friday at age 93. And the House said "get lost” to Rep. George Santos, the scandal-ridden New York Republican accused of a broad range of criminal misconduct, who became just the sixth person ever to be expelled from Congress.

The House’s 311-114 vote easily topped the two-thirds threshold required to boot Santos, as 105 Republicans — nearly half their conference — joined with 206 Democrats to remove him. Speaker Mike Johnson, who told reporters he has “real reservations” about expelling Santos, voted against the resolution. Republicans now hold an even narrower 221-213 majority in the chamber.

Here's what else is happening.

Defense Policy Bill Sets Up Test for Speaker Johnson

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 mean 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.

Quote of the Day

“It would be premature to conclude with confidence that we have achieved a sufficiently restrictive stance, or to speculate on when policy might ease. We are prepared to tighten policy further if it becomes appropriate to do so.”

— Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, speaking to students at Spelman College in Atlanta on Friday. Powell said he and his Fed colleagues anticipate that the economy will slow over the next year, but he also warned against any premature declarations of victory in the battle against inflation and pushed back against Wall Street expectations for interest rate cuts as soon as next quarter. Even so, bond rates fell again as traders bet that the Fed would cut rates sooner rather than later in the face of a slowing economy, with the 10-year briefly dipping below 4.2% in trading late in the day.

Medicaid Expansion Provides Coverage for 600,000 in North Carolina

More than 600,000 residents of North Carolina are gaining access to health insurance starting today thanks to the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.

Since his election in 2016, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has pushed to expand the health insurance program for low-income households, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, known more popularly — and in some cases, disparagingly — as Obamacare.

Cooper approved the expansion in March, but Republicans in the North Carolina legislature fought its implementation, passing a rule that required the state to approve a 2024 budget before the expansion could take effect and then dragging budget negotiations into September.

Cooper opposed the final budget but allowed it to become law without his signature, in part to allow the expansion to occur.

“Make no mistake, overall this is a bad budget that seriously shortchanges our schools, prioritizes power grabs, keeps shady backroom deals secret and blatantly violates the constitution, and many of its provisions will face legal action,” Cooper said in September. “However, we must recognize this irresponsible legislature’s decade of refusal to expand Medicaid, which has caused life and death situations for so many North Carolinians and threatened the very existence of numerous rural hospitals.”

An ongoing battle: States were given the option to expand their Medicaid programs starting in 2014, but some have refused to do, with many citing fiscal concerns, though critics have charged that some Republican-controlled states, many in the South, are simply opposed to providing services for the poor.

The expansion raises the threshold for eligibility to include households earning up to 138% of the poverty line and removes a disability requirement. For a single person, that raises the income threshold from $14,580 to $20,120 per year, while a family of four sees its limit rise from $30,000 to $$41,400. Under the terms of the expansion, the federal government picks up 90% of the cost. The American Rescue Plan of 2021 provided an additional 5% of cost coverage in the first two years, a bonus that played a role in the expansion’s success in North Carolina.

There are now 10 states remaining that have refused to expand their programs (see the map from KFF below). As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel notes, all 10 states have a Republican governor, a Republican-controlled legislature, or both.

In a statement, the White House applauded Medicaid expansion in North Carolina while warning about Republican efforts to undermine the law that made it possible. “Every American deserves high-quality affordable health care. Today, we are one step closer towards meeting that promise, as 600,000 North Carolinians can now access the affordable, quality coverage they need under Medicaid,” President Joe Biden said. “Despite this progress, MAGA Republicans still want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, just like my predecessor tried and failed to do repeatedly. There are 40 million people who get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and repealing the law would put their care at risk.”


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