The House on Thursday passed a massive defense bill that was passed on a bipartisan basis but repealed the Biden administration’s military vaccine mandate in a big Republican win.
While the bill passed on a 350-80 vote, its fate was not certain as lawmakers haggled back and forth at the last minute over whether to include some controversial measures.
The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, authorizes the Department of Defense’s activities and spending for the next year and is considered “must-pass legislation,” since it authorizes the DOD’s day-to-day activities, including paying troops.
Due to its importance, it has passed every year in a row for the last six decades — which made it a tempting target for Democrats to attach unrelated items to the bill this year, before Republicans are set to take control of the House.
However, none of the most controversial items the Democrats tried to attach made it through, with Republicans threatening not to move on the bill if they were attached.
The most problematic item was a proposal backed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would allow mainstream media companies to form a cartel to bargain with Big Tech companies for featuring their content, which would have hurt independent and conservative media outlets.
Senate Democrats went back and forth, demanding the proposal be in there, but it was dropped at the last minute due to a revolt by Senate Republicans.
Another big win for Democrats was getting language in the bill to repeal the Biden administration’s military vaccine mandate, which was ordered August 2021.
The Pentagon refused to budge on the mandate, despite it threatening the jobs of at least 70,000 service members.
Republican opposition to the mandate gained steam over the past several weeks and reached a crescendo over the last week, with senators making a big final push.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) led a group of Republican senators in the final days to get the language in the bill via Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy negotiating with Democrats on Republicans’ behalf.
Republicans were not able to get in language to reinstate the more than 8,000 service members kicked out over the mandate, but Republicans say they will fight for that when they retake the House in January.
Democrats also did not attach other items unrelated to defense, including permitting reform wanted by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and a proposal to allow marijuana companies to access banking institutions.
The bill — which authorizes $858 billion in spending for the DOD — also puts more military resources in the Indo-Pacific region to counter an increasingly aggressive China and in support of Taiwan.
There was also a boost in spending for Ukraine, with $800 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
The bill also gave troops a 4.6% pay raise, as well as boosted money for housing allowances and lowering grocery prices on base, in order to help troops and their families with the current historic inflation.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass on a bipartisan basis.