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Compromised NDAA Sails Through Senate with Bipartisan Support

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The National Defense Authorization Act sailed through the Senate Wednesday on a bipartisan 89-10 vote, clearing its path to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The annual defense bill, which Congress has passed for 61 years in a row, totaled $768 billion, $25 billion more the White House originally requested. It passed the House on Dec. 7 with 169 Democrats and 194 Republicans voting in favor and cleared a Senate filibuster Tuesday on an 86-13 vote.

“Our nation faces an enormous range of security challenges, and it is more important than ever that we provide our military men and women the support they need to keep America safe,” said Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “To that end, this bill makes great progress.”

While the compromised version of the bill found the overwhelming support of Congress, the negotiation process was rocky. The original version passed the House in September only to be stonewalled by Senate Republicans weeks later over what they alleged was a lack of amendment votes.

As senior members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees scrambled to reach a deal, several bipartisan provisions that were included in both chambers’ original bills fell by the wayside or were significantly altered. They included adding women to the draft, repealing authorized uses of military force relating to the Iraq and Gulf Wars and an overhaul to how the military handled cases of sexual assault and other serious crimes, shifting investigations from the chain of command to independent prosecutors.

New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who co-led the bipartisan push for military justice reform, lambasted its watering-down Monday, saying on the Senate floor that her provision was “unceremoniously and undemocratically removed from the NDAA behind closed doors.”

“Committee leadership has overridden the will of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a majority of the House who called for real reform that would have moved serious crimes to independent military prosecutors,” Gillibrand said. “Instead, committee leadership has codified the status quo.”

The NDAA’s passage comes hours after Democrats approved a $2.5 trillion debt ceiling increase and two weeks after Congress passed a short-term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown, the two most pressing legislative items left this year. While the House has no votes scheduled until January, Senate Democrats are still negotiating Biden’s tax and spending bill, with the hopes of bringing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin fully on board and passing the bill before Christmas, though the timeline is growing more unlikely.

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