House Moves Huge Defense Spending Bill Forward

The House of Representatives passed a defense bill worth $886 billion on Thursday despite facing opposition from the far right. The bill garnered bipartisan support and authorized a 5.2 percent pay increase for Pentagon service members and civilian employees. It also includes provisions to enhance competition with Russia and China, such as expanding regional partnerships in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, developing hypersonic weapons, and upgrading the nuclear arsenal.

Additionally, the bill establishes a submarine deal as part of a new security partnership between the United States, Britain, Australia, and AUKUS. It directs significant funding towards supplying weapons to Ukraine and Israel. However, it does not address the question of emergency funds for the two countries’ war efforts, as a separate spending bill has stalled in Congress due to a dispute between Republicans and Democrats regarding measures to address migration across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Furthermore, the bill extends a program allowing the intelligence community to conduct surveillance of foreign individuals outside the United States without a legal warrant. This program has faced criticism from the FBI for handling Americans’ private messages.

While the bill’s passage was considered a compromise, it sparked outrage among conservatives who wanted social policy measures included. These measures aimed to restrict abortion access, transgender health services, and drag shows on military bases. However, these provisions were eliminated during bipartisan negotiations between the House and Senate.

Some conservatives and liberals opposed the bill due to the inclusion of a provision extending a warrantless surveillance program. The program, created under FISA, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, allows the government to conduct wiretaps on foreign bad actors. However, American communications often get collected during these wiretaps, leading to concerns about privacy and misuse of information by FBI officials.

The defense bill also includes several items from the GOP’s priority list, such as a salary cap on diversity, equity, and inclusion positions, a ban on teaching critical race theory in military schools, and the establishment of a review board for service members discharged for refusing to comply with the now-defunct COVID-19 vaccine mandate. It also established a special inspector general to oversee U.S. aid to Ukraine.

The bill’s passage ensures the continuation of Washington’s longstanding tradition of approving military policy legislation annually. However, when Congress reconvenes in January, discussions about reforming the warrantless surveillance program are expected to resume.