GOP Hardliners Unhappy as Defense Bill Passes

Gaetz, others complain about concessions on abortion, trans issues
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 14, 2023 1:25 PM CST
Congress Gives Troops a Raise as Bill Passes House
A member of the National Guard patrols the area outside of the US Capitol in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

The House passed a defense policy bill Thursday that authorizes the biggest pay raise for troops in more than two decades, overcoming objections from some conservatives concerned the measure did not do enough to restrict the Pentagon's diversity initiatives, abortion travel policy, and gender-affirming health care for transgender service members. The $886 billion bill was approved by a vote of 310-118 and now goes to President Biden after the Senate had overwhelmingly passed it Wednesday, per the AP. It is likely the last piece of major legislation Congress will consider before leaving for the holiday break, though negotiations continue on a bill to aid Ukraine and Israel and boost border security.

The spending called for represents about a 3% increase from the prior year, and it includes a 5.2% pay increase for service members, per the New York Times. The measure does not include language sought by House Republicans to restrict gender-affirming health care for transgender service members, and it does not block the Pentagon's abortion travel policy, which allows reimbursement for travel expenses when a service member has to go out of state for an abortion. Republicans did win some concessions on diversity and inclusion training in the military. For example, the bill freezes hiring for such training until a full accounting of the programming and costs is completed and reported to Congress.

About twice as many Republicans voted for the bill as voted against it. "You almost feel like a parent who's sent a child off to summer camp and they came back a monster," Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said in opposing the bill. "That's what we've done. This bill came back in far worse shape." Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, chided the bill's critics for what he described as an unwillingness to compromise. "Apparently, you don't like democracy because that's what democracy is. You compromise and you work with people and you do it all the time," Smith said.

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On Ukraine, the bill includes the creation of a special inspector general for Ukraine to address concerns about whether taxpayer dollars are being spent in Ukraine as intended. That's on top of oversight work already being conducted by other agency watchdogs. On China, the bill establishes a new training program with Taiwan, requires a plan to accelerate deliveries of Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Taiwan, and approves an agreement that enables Australia to access nuclear-powered submarines, which are stealthier and more capable than conventionally powered vessels.

(More defense spending stories.)

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