- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a long-stalled defense policy bill after lawmakers cut out scores of hot-button measures.

The $770 billion package now heads to President Biden’s desk without provisions to include women in the military draft, a revoking of the authorization for the Iraq War and scores of other items that kept lawmakers squabbling over the annual “must-pass” legislation.

The final version of the bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA, kept in place a $25 billion boost to the Pentagon budget, a win for Republicans and some Democrats, who overcame loud objection from progressives.

The spending boost is a loud rebuke of Mr. Biden’s proposed budget which trailed inflation, and which many lawmakers said would leave the Pentagon unprepared in countering threats from Russia and China.

The Senate gave final approval to NDAA in an 89-10 vote, following the House approval last week of the bipartisan compromise package hashed out in backroom meetings between both chambers’ lawmakers.

“I am pleased that the Senate has voted in an overwhelming, bipartisan fashion to pass this year’s defense bill,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat. “Our nation faces an enormous range of security challenges, and it is more important than ever that we provide our military men and women with the support they need to keep Americans safe.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, weathered bipartisan backlash as the bill languished for months in the Senate. Lawmakers went back to the drawing board with the NDAA after Senate Republicans blocked Mr. Schumer’s attempt to advance the legislation without votes on key GOP amendments.

Republican lawmakers also averted a measure that would have repealed the 1991 and 2002 Iraq War authorizations.

Republicans objected to ending the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) because it is being used as umbrella approval for military operations against terrorist groups in the region, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Republicans would rather replace the AUMF than repeal it outright.

The compromise included a Republican-backed measure to establish a commission to study the full 20-year war in Afghanistan and provide Congress with recommendations and lessons learned.

The final bill also leaves in place provisions from previous years which ban the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the U.S., despite Democrats this year resuming their push to close the Bush-era relic.

The final version damped a sweeping military justice overhaul proposal put forward by Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat, which would have removed convening authority for all major crimes from unit commanders.

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The measure was opposed by senior military leaders, who said the overhaul would harm unit culture and discipline. The final version removes several major crimes including rape, sexual assault, and murder from specialized military prosecutors, but stops short of removing military commanders’ decision-making authority on all major crimes.

Lawmakers also yanked from the bill sanctions against Russian’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that runs undersea from Russia to Germany, which critics fear will strengthen Moscow’s hand in Western Europe.

The bill, which has passed without fail for 6 decades, proceeds to the president’s desk with just days to spare before the end of the year.

“This bill sends a clear message to our allies — that the United States remains a reliable, credible partner — and to our adversaries — that the U.S. military is prepared and fully able to defend our interests around the world,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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