Senate Passes $886 Billion Defense Bill

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Senate approved an $886 billion defense bill for fiscal year 2024 by a vote of 87 to 13 Wednesday night.

Ahead of the vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)  itself, the chamber waived GOP Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s attempt to remove a four-month extension to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) from the bill before taking up the conference report.

FISA’s Section 702 allows U.S. intelligence agencies to gather incidental data on Americans while surveying foreign targets operating within the United States, generating concern over illegal spying on American citizens. (RELATED: Wuhan Lab, Fentanyl And Nuclear Weapons: Defense Bill Takes Aim At China, But Leaves Out Key Restrictions)

Social issues became a flash point in the bill, with the final version capping salaries for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) employees and prohibiting the Pentagon from endorsing Critical Race Theory. It omitted two major provisions from the House version, one of which would ban the military’s insurance program from covering transgender hormone treatments and sex change surgeries.

Earlier on Wednesday the Senate also voted down, 47 to 53, a symbolic vote to integrate a provision from the House version of the bill into the final report overturning the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, teed up by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, according to the Senate Press Gallery.

Overall, the NDAA authorizes a 5.2% pay raise for troops — less that what Republicans had hoped for — and an array of provisions related to service member benefits, health care and quality of life, according to a summary.

It also creates an independent inspector general for U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.

The bill is an increase of $28 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Energy over the fiscal year 2023 bill, according to CNN.

“It will ensure the United States can hold the line against Russia, stand firm against the Chinese Communist Party, and ensures that America’s military remains state-of-the-art at all times around the world,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor ahead of the vote.

The House is expected to vote on final passage of the NDAA Thursday, Fox News reported. The House Freedom Caucus criticized the bill, saying the Democrat-controlled Senate shoved it through the reconciliation process and stripped a number of “anti-woke” amendments.

The NDAA sets Pentagon policy and parameters around spending but does not actually appropriate the funds toward the specified end.

Separately, Congress is embroiled in tense discussions around a supplemental security assistance package for Ukraine and Israel that were not included in the NDAA. Republicans insist that foreign funding be paired with money to reinforce the U.S. southern border, but Democrats have not accommodated GOP demands.

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