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A House panel early Thursday approved the annual defense authorization bill after hours of debate over GOP social priorities, including efforts to eliminate critical race theory and curb diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Democrats decried the provisions as divisive and a monopoly of time better spent on national security issues, but in the end, the House Armed Services Committee approved the measure on a 58-1 vote, with just one Democrat—Ro Khanna of California—voting against it.
“I hate also that we get bogged down on some social issues,” Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said during the markup. “But they are a small percentage of the issues that this committee deals with.”
Overall, the measure (H.R. 2670) that the full House will likely take up early next month would authorize $886 billion for national security programs, in keeping with the debt limit deal struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). It authorizes about $874.2 billion for national defense programs, with the rest of the money for other defense-related activities.
The Senate Armed Services panel is also considering the annual defense policy bill. The two sides will have to conference to reach a compromise bill. The defense authorization bill is considered must-pass legislation because it authorizes troop pay increases and military construction projects, as well as sets weapons and geo-strategic policies.
The majority on the panel voted in favor of Republican-backed provisions, including one by Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) that would require the Pentagon to report on how many hours and how much money it spent on critical race theory training, and another to eliminate the chief diversity officer at the Pentagon.
“We will spend as many hours as it takes to de-wokeify the military,” Gaetz said. “We’re going to be going after DEI. And we’re going to be going after critical race theory.”
The panel also approved an amendment by Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) that would ban the use of federal money for training or education that promotes critical race theory, but defeated an amendment by Gaetz that would have blocked money for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The panel also voted to prohibit any money being spent on drag shows and drag queen story-hour.
The House Armed Services panel adopted a series of amendments that would help reinstate troops that were kicked out for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine. Congress undid the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate in the 2023 defense authorization measure. But at the time, it didn’t include language regarding those service members who were discharged for not following the earlier vaccine mandate.
The House panel also voted for an amendment by Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) that would block a requirement that defense contractors disclose greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risk in the bidding process. Another adopted provision by Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) would prohibit the use of funds for any advisory committees related to environmental, social and governance issues.
Helicopters and Ukraine Weapons
The massive measure would also prohibit the termination of the HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter production line. The rescue helicopter is built by Sikorsky, a unit of Lockheed Martin Corp. The Air Force is planning to reduce its purchases of the new rescue helicopter from a planned 119 aircraft to 75 as it looks to revise its ways of conducting combat search and rescue.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Army would have submit a report on current and future funding for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, a key program to modernize the service’s helicopter fleet. FARA is meant to replace Boeing Co.‘s Apache helicopters. Both amendments were sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).
The panel also approved by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) that would ban the Air Force from terminating flying missions for National Guard fighter aircraft until the service comes up with a fighter overhaul plan for the Guard. And the panel voted to create a program for a sea-launched nuclear missile that the Biden administration opposes, but that military leaders have said they support.
The panel also pressed the Pentagon to send the Army Tactical Missile System to Ukraine. The Biden administration so far has been reluctant to send the more capable missile system made by Lockheed Martin to Ukraine for fear that its reach could strike into Russia, escalating the war — but also because of concerns of drawing too much from the US’s own weapons stockpile. ATACMS — a long-range guided missile — has a reach of 190 miles, or 300 kilometers.
Shipbuilding, Pacific Deterrence
The House Armed Services panel authorized 10 ships for the Navy, including additional funding authorization for an amphibious vessel that the Navy didn’t request, and incremental funding for a new submarine tenders. The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships are made by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. in Mississippi, the home state of Rep. Trent Kelly, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, who received bipartisan support for the addition.
The omission in the Pentagon’s budget request of amphibious vessels has driven a wedge between the Navy and Marine Corps, because the Navy says it can’t afford to buy the ship, while the Marine Corps argues it needs the vessels for its global missions.
The House measure also would prevent the early retirement of two cruisers and three amphibious ships, and would block half the Navy’s operations and maintenance account until the service submits, on a quarterly basis, briefings on the availability of amphibious ships, after the service said it would pause buying them.
The bill also proposes $9.7 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a boost of $600 million from the Pentagon’s budget request. The measure also would fully authorize funding for the nuclear triad and would seek to boost military stocks in the Pacific region. It would also require a study and report on the implementation of naval blockades of shipments of fossil fuels to China in the event of armed conflict.
To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at email@example.com