The House on Thursday passed 350-80 the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act after making several concessions to the Senate, which did not pass its own version of the bill for the second straight year in a row.
The $858 billion NDAA amounts to an 8% increase over FY22 defense levels and is $45 billion more than the White House requested in its budget proposal last spring. It also provides increased aid to Taiwan and Ukraine. The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation next week.
The compromise bill with the Senate drops various House provisions that would have complicated arms transfers to some countries and irregular forces over human rights concerns. House lawmakers had previously attached those provisions as amendments when they passed their version of the NDAA in a 329-101 vote in July.
Additionally, the final bill blocks the Biden administration’s efforts to retire certain weapons systems and discontinue a couple of nuclear weapons platforms.
Despite some of the House concessions, Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and the panel’s top Republican, Mike Rogers of Alabama, both praised the bipartisan comprise bill as necessary to deter Russia in Europe and China in the Indo-Pacific region.
The bill authorizes $10 billion in military aid for Taiwan through FY27 and includes measures intended to help address the multibillion-dollar backlog of U.S. foreign military sales for the island nation. Congressional appropriators have yet to strike a deal on how to pay for the authorization, with some expressing concern that the high dollar amount authorized for Taiwan security aid could eat into the U.S. State Department’s $56 billion budget.
In a win for Republicans, the measure includes language that repeals the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for U.S. service members, which has been in place since August 2021.
The concession was seen as a surprise by many. The White House and Pentagon spoke out against it and similar measures to significantly limit the vaccine mandate were voted down in the House Armed Services Committee during the bill’s markup earlier this year.
But GOP lawmakers for months have spoken out against the policy, arguing that it was a government overreach to force service members to receive the jab and claiming that the policy was hurting military recruitment and retention.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) threatened to hold up the legislation if it did not include a rollback of the mandate. McCarthy over the weekend told “Fox News Sunday” that “the bill will not move” if the policy was not lifted. He said he relayed the same message to President Biden during a meeting at the White House last week with the four congressional leaders.
The GOP leader celebrated the victory Monday evening, calling the development “a win for our military.”