Connor O'Brien et al., Politico, June 21, 2023
Pentagon personnel policies took center stage early on Wednesday in the House Armed Services Committee’s deliberations over its annual defense policy bill, with conservatives pushing to rein in programs they deem distractions from the military’s mission.
The Republican-led panel has muscled through a variety of amendments to blunt the penalties for troops who didn’t comply with the since-repealed military vaccine mandate and tamp down efforts to combat climate change.
The panel has also launched into a debate on blocking Pentagon programs aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion and targeting critical race theory.
The new GOP majority, under Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), will need to walk a narrow path between endorsing conservative policies in the annual National Defense Authorization Act and maintaining the support of Democrats who will be needed to pass the bill on the House floor next month.
The panel is set to consider more than 800 amendments to the bill, which would authorize $886 billion for national defense.
“We all have the same goal, to support the men and women who serve our nation. If we keep that goal in mind, I am very optimistic that the bill we report today will enjoy strong bipartisan support,” Rogers said as the panel opened its markup.
Republicans are expected to offer a variety of amendments during the marathon markup to rein in Pentagon policies to promote diversity and inclusion, combat extremism in the ranks and mitigate climate change.
The committee could end up punting on some of the most contentious debates and save them for the full House, but Armed Services’ top Democrat Adam Smith is already warning that some GOP proposals go too far for his side.
“I am concerned that there are amendments filed to the bill that cross these redlines and could jeopardize final passage of the bill,” Smith said in a statement.
“I urge members to carefully consider the decades of comity that have characterized this committee and to weigh the so-called political gains that a few in their ranks are pursuing at the expense of America’s greatest source of national strength: our service members and their families, innovation and technology, allies and partners, and defense industrial base and military readiness,” he added.
It’s part of a hectic week of markups for defense policy and spending. At the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Armed Services will enter closed, full-panel deliberations on its NDAA Wednesday afternoon. The full House Appropriations Committee holds a markup Thursday for its fiscal 2024 defense bill, which cuts back the Pentagon’s marquee push for multiyear purchases of missiles and trims $715 million from proposals to migrate climate change and $100 million from diversity programs.
During the House Armed Services markup that began Wednesday morning, lawmakers will debate until they’ve exhausted amendments on hardware, nuclear weapons and other hot-button issues — traditionally an all-night session that involves energy drinks and frayed nerves.
If Republicans succeed in adding a number of their controversial measures, Democrats will have to decide how many provisions that likely won’t survive negotiations with the Senate they can stomach before they outright oppose the bill.
Just as when Democrats held a narrow majority in the last Congress, Republicans almost certainly don’t command a sturdy enough majority to pass the bill on the floor with their own votes. That gives Democrats leverage over what goes in, or perhaps more importantly stays out, of the must-pass bill.
Republicans will offer amendments that aim to shutter Pentagon diversity programs that they see as politicizing the military and driving out conservative troops. One amendment from member Mark Alford (R-Mo.) would defund DOD’s deputy inspector general for diversity and inclusion and extremism and another shutters the Pentagon’s anti-extremism task force.
“These amendments are critical to eliminating the wokeness in our military and the unnecessary extremism working group,” Alford said in a statement. “We should not be wasting man-hours and taxpayer dollars on programs that do nothing to benefit our military but rather hamper recruitment and retention efforts.”