One of the few remaining areas of bipartisan cooperation, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, has finally made its way to the U.S. Senate after clearing the House with strong bipartisan majority support.
There was such strong consensus over the necessity of the NDAA in its current form that its price tag, $25 billion above the proposed budget of President Joe Biden, managed to pass a lower chamber that has expressed significant concern about growing inflation. However, a Christmas list of non-germane, pork-barrel amendments in the Senate is now threatening to bog the process down at a time when the American people cannot afford for Congress to delay the bill’s passage.
An office to study UFOs. Off-reservation casino construction. Small business loans. Trade-of-time arrangements for non-military workers. All these NDAA amendments, just a few of the many that the Senate recently proposed for consideration, are unrelated to the defense needs of the United States. Why then are members attempting to add them to the defense spending bill?
Their actions appear to stem from the ever-increasing partisan divide of the U.S. Congress, which has led to fewer bills receiving consideration and passing each year. The current 117th Congress, for example, has seen the president sign just 54 laws. That represents an 84-percent decrease from the 116th Congress, which watched 22-percent fewer laws get enacted from the prior session. Because the current climate for passing new legislation is so dim, some members attempt to find workarounds to enact the most polarizing components of their political agendas. They are trying to do so by quietly bolting their desired legislative outcomes onto must-pass bills like the NDAA.
Members who propose non-germane amendments may not think they are causing any harm, but they are. They are effectively playing politics with national security, and that is never a good thing.
If allowed by the Senate to let stand, these amendments will inevitably delay passage of the most crucial piece of legislation that Congress must pass this year.
We are not talking about a few amendments; we are talking about hundreds of pages’ worth. Some of the items featured on this long wish list will inevitably lead to objections or lengthy debates that may delay the NDAA’s passage by weeks, if not months.
That is why the high chamber must ensure that this bill remains clean and free of extraneous amendments that have tangential relevance to national defense. This current NDAA is too important to become the victim of partisan politics.
The legislation includes provisions to curb China’s growing influence in the Pacific and strengthen our commitment to defending Taiwan’s independence. Across the Atlantic, it re-ups the United States’ pledge to NATO and looks to combat Russia’s influence in Eastern European nations like Ukraine, Estonia, and the Baltic states. It also commits tens of billions of dollars to upgrade our aging nuclear arsenal and fend off the surge of U.S. ransomware attacks by devoting extensive resources to updating our nation’s cyber capabilities.
Beyond these crucial foreign affairs and public safety initiatives and the many upgrades to the United States’ outdated weapons and machinery found throughout the bill, this NDAA also significantly boosts the welfare of our men and women in uniform through extended benefits and policy reforms. For example, it includes a 2.7-percent pay raise and changes to the military justice system to crack down on sexual assault.
What member of the U.S. Senate would want to tell their constituents and the country that they held up this important bill because of an off-reservation casino or UFO office they requested? One would think that none would; however, the entirety of the NDAA is still put at risk if even one senator decides to play maverick and prioritize their political priorities over patriotism and their responsibilities.
It may be prudent for the Senate to consider rules changes to this annual defense spending bill. When he served as Acting Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) discussed the prospect of a rule change to ensure every amendment proposed to the NDAA is germane to the defense needs of the United States. This idea should merit discussion before next year’s NDAA. Until that debate, however, current Chairman Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) and the rest of the U.S. Senate need to ensure that the current defense spending bill under consideration remains clean so it can pass without delay.
Passage of the NDAA will mean more than simply funding the military. It will show the world that America is still united and capable of defending its interests. It will restore confidence in our military from our allies and the active-duty service members who have, at times, felt neglected. Most importantly, it will help restore citizens’ confidence in the legislative branch’s capability to govern functionally. Let’s not let UFOs, casinos, and other obscure legislative asks impede the process.
• Major General Charles V. Ickes was the Deputy Director of the Air National Guard. He assisted the Director of the Air National Guard in formulating, developing and coordinating all policies, and plans and programs affecting the more than 104,000 Guard members in more than 1,841 units throughout the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. Before this assignment, he served as the Air National Guard’s Chief Operating Officer.