Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
July 14, 2023
Traditionally, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the annual budget and appropriations of the Department of Defense, passes Congress on a bipartisan basis. Since 1961 it has been considered must-pass legislation, as it provides the funding for our national security.
For all that there is grumbling on both sides over one thing or another in the measure, it is generally kept outside partisanship. Late last night, House Republicans broke that tradition by loading the bill with a wish list from the far right.
Republicans added amendments that eliminate all diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs in the Defense Department; end the Defense Department program that reimburses military personnel who must travel for abortion services; bar healthcare for gender transition; prevent the military academies from using affirmative action in admissions (an exception the recent Supreme Court decision allowed); block the Pentagon from putting in place President Biden’s executive orders on climate change; prevent schools associated with the Defense Department from teaching that the United States of America is racist; and block military schools from having “pornographic and radical gender ideology books” in their libraries.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted: “We don’t want Disneyland to train our military. House Republicans just passed a bill that ENDS the wokism in the military and gives our troops their biggest pay raise in decades.” In fact, the events of last night were a victory for right-wing extremists, demonstrating that they hold the upper hand in the House.
Representatives Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), both military veterans, expressed shock that so many Republicans voted to strip abortion protections from military personnel. “[T]hey will say, ‘this is a really bad idea,’ ‘this is not where the party should be going,’ ‘this is a mistake,’” Sherill said. “[W]ell then why did everyone but two people in the Republican conference vote for this really bad amendment?”The bill passed by a vote of 219 to 210, largely along partisan lines.
This year’s budget is $886 billion as the U.S. modernizes the military to compete with new threats such as the rise of China, and it provides a 5.2% increase in pay for military personnel. But Senate Democrats will not vote for it with the new partisan amendments and are working on their own measure. While there will be a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the two versions, McCarthy has offered a position on that committee to Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), one of the extremists. This is an unusual offer, as she is not on the House Armed Services Committee. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said: “Extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security and taken it over and weaponized it in order to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.”
“We are not going to relent, we are not going to back down, we’re not going to give up on the cause that is righteous,” Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said.Representative Sean Casten (D-IL) summed up the vote today on Twitter. “The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the bill that funds all of our military operations. It is typically bipartisan and is about as serious as Congress gets.
What weapons of war we fund, which allies we share them with, how we recruit. National security is a BFD. We can have our political debates about any number of issues but it is generally understood that when Americans are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend us, it’s time to check the crazies at the door. But today, the crazies won.“
They won first because [McCarthy] put the crazies in positions of power. But second because none of the “moderate” Republicans had the courage to stay the hell out of KrazyTown…. Is every member of the [House Republican Conference] a homophobic, racist, science denying lunatic? No. But the lesson of today is that the ones who aren’t are massive cowards completely unfit for any position of leadership.
“There is space—and demand—for reasonable differences of opinion in our democracy. This isn’t about whether we agree. It’s about whether we can trust that—differences aside—we trust that we’ve got each other’s back if we ever find ourselves in a foxhole together. That’s usually a metaphor, conflating the horrors of war with the much lower-stakes lives that most of us are fortunate enough to lead. But today, the entire [House Republican Conference] told us—both literally and metaphorically—that they don’t give a damn about the rest of the unit.”