The House voted on Thursday to pass sweeping legislation that would authorize $858 billion in national defense funding and overturn the US military’s Covid vaccine mandate. The measure passed with broad bipartisan support with a tally of 350 to 80.
House lawmakers approved a final negotiated version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, which sets the policy agenda and authorizes funding for the Department of Defense. After passing the House, the measure will then need to go to the Senate for approval before it can be sent to President Joe Biden for signing into law.
As part of its $858 billion turnover for national defense funding, the measure authorizes $817 billion specifically for the Department of Defense. The massive bill includes a large number of policy provisions. Among them, he would allow a 4.6% pay rise for military service members. It includes provisions to strengthen air power and ground defense capabilities as well as cyber security. It also aims to bolster US support for Ukraine and NATO.
The provision to rescind the military’s Covid vaccine mandate comes after Republicans in Congress pushed for its repeal. In a statement late Tuesday, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said “the end of President Biden’s military mandate on the COVID vaccine is a victory for our military and for common sense.”
The White House declined to say Wednesday whether President Biden will sign the must-have annual defense bill if he includes the provision to rescind the military Covid vaccine mandate, reiterating that the president continues to support a mandate but leaving the door open to repeal.
“We continue to believe that repealing the vaccine mandate is wrong. Ensuring our troops are ready and ready to defend this country remains the President’s priority and the Covid vaccine requirement does exactly that,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday when specifically pressed on whether Biden would sign the NDAA if the mandate remained in final legislation.
But while White House officials have deferred — and explicitly sided with — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s opposition to the warrant being quashed, the provision’s inclusion in the final compromise deal highlights a reality that has been playing out behind the scenes in recent days. Democrats concluded that including the GOP priority was a necessity in order to get the must-see political bill over the finish line. And White House officials have quietly acknowledged that means their opposition to vaccine language will not prevent the bill from passing.
The final version of the defense policy bill that will pass is the product of lengthy negotiations between key lawmakers in the House and Senate. It should pass through both chambers with bipartisan support.
The bill outlines the political agenda of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military and authorizes spending in accordance with Pentagon priorities, although the legislation does not appropriate the funding itself.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday the chamber could consider the defense bill “as early as next week.”
Schumer noted that the days are shrinking over the calendar year “and we still have a lot to do,” pointing to the NDAA, confirming more Biden judicial nominees and funding the government.
This story and title have been updated with additional developments.
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