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House bill previews changes coming to U.S. military

The National Defense Authorization Act awaits approval from the Senate


U.S. soldiers at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 30 Associated Press/Photo by Senior Airman Taylor Crul/U.S. Air Force

House bill previews changes coming to U.S. military

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night passed a $768 billion compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the military’s spending priorities. Once the NDAA passes the Senate and reaches President Joe Biden’s desk, Congress will still need to pass an appropriations bill to allow the Department of Defense to cash the checks the NDAA writes. But the bill is a crucial blueprint for DOD spending.

Here are a few policy highlights that Congress included along with the nuts and bolts of equipment and building budgets:

  • Prosecutions: Commanders will no longer make decisions about investigating and prosecuting certain crimes committed by service members, including rape, murder, and kidnapping. Instead, they’ll refer cases to independent military prosecutors who’ll decide whether to pursue prosecution, though commanders still conduct trials and choose juries. Congress also added sexual harassment to the list of crimes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  • Russia: Ukraine will get $300 million to boost its security forces, $50 million more than Biden’s administration requested as the European nation stares down a Russian military buildup across its border. Another $4 billion will go to the European Deterrence Initiative targeted against Russia. And Congress asked for updates from the State Department and DOD on any Russian efforts to influence America’s alliances.
  • China: The DOD can no longer knowingly buy any goods made by forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, an effort to keep China from profiting from the slave labor of detained Uyghurs. Lawmakers also emphasized in the NDAA that the United States’ diplomatic relations with China depend on China’s peaceful relationship with Taiwan and said the United States will keep providing Taiwan’s military with equipment and training.
  • Afghanistan: The NDAA prohibits any U.S. money going to the Taliban and requires a report of how much equipment the United States left in Afghanistan and contingency plans for evacuating the remaining U.S. citizens and Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas. A new 16-member Afghanistan War Commission established in the bill would assemble a list of lessons learned from the war. Congress also ordered the DOD not to delete information about Afghanistan from its websites while making Afghanistan operations information easily searchable across branches of the military. The NDAA also authorizes the secretary of defense to commission a memorial for the service members killed at the Kabul airport during the evacuation.
  • Other: The more than 2,000-page bill includes a host of other policy changes. Governors can’t use private funding for state National Guard deployments to another state except for natural disasters. (South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem this summer said a donor would underwrite deploying guard members to the U.S. southern border.) Service members discharged for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine must be given an honorable or general discharge. The NDAA also adds more diversity training, emphasizes diverse boards at defense contractors, and includes $27.8 billion for nuclear weapons projects at the Department of Energy.

A previous draft of the NDAA had stalled in the Senate amid disagreement over which amendments to include. When committee leaders rewrote a compromise bill, they dropped several proposals from drafts, including a measure adding women to the draft, an effort to repeal decades-old Iraq War authorizations, and sanctions on some Russian natural gas exports in an effort to keep Moscow from allowing an invasion of Ukraine. Also nixed: a new office to study extremism in the military and a measure allowing civilian police to confiscate weapons from service members accused of domestic violence.

Because the NDAA has passed annually for more than 60 years, lawmakers often tack on policies unlikely to gain momentum alone that can coast with the NDAA. Elaine McCusker, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, pointed out that including in the NDAA projects like autism research, which she argued the National Institutes of Health should handle, artificially inflate the military’s top-line budget number. And she said delaying passing the NDAA until months after the new fiscal year began in October puts the DOD behind on adopting new spending priorities, hobbling its technology competition with foreign militaries and slowing its efforts to modernize. “You basically can’t make up lost time,” McCusker said.

Brad Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, agreed. He noted that packing the NDAA with amendments best handled by other departments of the federal government can contribute to delays: “The more you load up the National Defense Authorization Act like a Christmas tree, the more you risk it collapsing underneath its own weight.”


Esther Eaton

Esther formerly reported on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.

@EstherJay10

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