A completed Senate draft of the defense policy bill for 2024 scored a handful of culture war wins for Republicans while shutting down efforts in the amendment process that would have further limited left-wing policies in the military.
The Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act late Thursday night with a blowout bipartisan vote of 86 to 11, setting the stage for a contentious process of reconciliation with the more partisan House version. Lawmakers deliberated more than 900 amendments to a committee draft through Thursday, voting against a provision from Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas that would effectively prohibit the LGBT Pride flag from being flown at military sites.
Marshall’s bill permitted only the U.S. flag, the National League of Families POW/MIA flag, flags representing a military service and a narrow set of additional flags in select cases to fly at U.S. military installations or embassies, the record shows. The bill failed by one vote. (RELATED: Senate Bills Task FBI, DOD With Investigating Chinese Communist Party-Linked ‘Service Centers’ In US)
Of the 945 amendments proposed, the Senate adopted 121, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement after the bill’s passage.
“Our bipartisan approach netted a major win for America’s military men and women and their families,” Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee’s chairman, said in the statement.
Republican senators squeezed in several provisions tamping down on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs they perceive as discriminatory.
The bill requires military service academies to continue requiring and considering standardized test scores for applicants, a provision intended to restrict the ways the schools could skirt a ban on race or gender-based admissions, according to a draft text.
It also limits salaries for DEI administrators and includes language requiring the military to assign, promote and evaluate servicemembers on the basis of merit rather than external characteristics. Another provision blocks the Pentagon from expanding DEI offices until the Government Accountability Office submits a report on the programs’ workforces.
In contrast, the House version includes amendments overturning the Department of Defense (DOD) abortion travel coverage policy, diversity administrative roles, DOD funding for sex-change treatments and race-based admissions at military academies, the record shows. It passed on a party line vote of 219 to 210.
The Pentagon should be focused on deterring real wars, not fighting culture wars.
My MERIT Act, included in this year’s NDAA, would prioritize equal opportunity for our military branches. pic.twitter.com/9zrFFobHlc
— Senator Roger Wicker (@SenatorWicker) July 22, 2023
“Nobody on our side seriously believes the Democrat-controlled Senate, Democrat White House is going to accept those” conservative social policies, House Armed Services Chair Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama told Politico. “We set down a marker that if you, the American people, give us 60 votes in the Senate and the White House, this is what we’ll do.”
“But we all know we only control one chamber,” he added.
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