House Barely Passes Defense Bill
On July 14, 2023, Republicans in the United States House were able to successfully pass a defense bill on largely partisan lines. The bill would restrict abortion access, transgender care, and diversity training for military personnel, laying the groundwork for a clash with the US Senate, which is under Democratic control. The upcoming fight could run the risk of capsizing the annual measure to grant a pay raise to the troops, establish a national security policy to confront US adversaries and maintain Pentagon programs during a time of growing geopolitical threats.
The House approved the measure by a vote margin of 219 to 210 with nearly unanimous Republican support. The passage of this bill shows the influence of the America First Right who has demanded certain concessions from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as a condition of their support for his speaker bid.
Democrats criticized the bill, blaming Republican leaders for having turned what started out as a bipartisan measure into hyper-politicized legislation that placated elements of the America First Right.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security and taken it over and weaponized it in order to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people,” declared New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.
On July 14, America First Republicans indicated that they are not in the mood to compromise with the Senate.
“We are not going to relent, we are not going to back down, we’re not going to give up on the cause that is righteous,” Pennsylvania Congressman Scott Perry, said to reporters. He revealed that members of the House Freedom Caucus, of which he chairs, were “going to use every single tool at our disposal” to uphold the socially conservative modifications to the bill, describing them as “a huge victory.”
Republicans tacked on a provision to get rid of a Defense Department policy that was implemented after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade to provide time off and travel reimbursement to military members who must travel out of state to receive an abortion. Republicans contend the policy violates federal laws preventing taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortions, although the policy does not include provisions for the payment of the procedure.
Republicans also tacked on measures banning the military from providing health coverage for gender transition surgeries and similar hormone therapies. Such procedures currently require a waiver. These measures included language that would scrap all diversity, equity and inclusion offices at the Defense Department, in addition to the positions attached to them, and barring the Defense Department from using affirmative action policies in admissions decisions at the military service academies.
The House also added language banning the Defense Department’s educational arm from purchasing any book that features pornographic content or “espouses radical gender ideology.” With the assistance of 9 Democrats, Republicans got the approval of a policy banning Defense Department schools from teaching that the United States or its founding documents are racist in nature.
Overall, these are solid victories at the margins. However, the US needs to have its national security state fully contained. The first step in doing that is by defunding the Defense Department. There’s no reason for this institution to be given such great powers and receive such high levels of funding.