What to Know in Washington: House Preps for Testy Defense Debate

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House Republican leaders have a tough job when they bring the annual defense policy bill to the floor this week: wrangling conservatives who seek to curtail diversity and inclusion, abortion rights, and security aid to Ukraine — while attracting enough Democrats to pass the legislation.

Congress has treated the mammoth measure as must-pass for 60 years because it authorizes pay for troops in harm’s way. For fiscal 2024, it would authorize $886 billion for national security, in keeping with the debt limit deal President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) reached.

The Rules Committee on Tuesday must sift through almost 1,500 amendments — most dealing with national security and weapons. Yet only a few hot-button controversies will put deep divisions between the parties on display. McCarthy, with a tiny Republican majority, won his speakership only after making concessions to conservatives. The defense authorization bill will be a barometer of whether he can deliver crucial legislation.

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican Kevin McCarthy, shown Jan. 6, 2023 during his negotiations to become House speaker, faces a test of whether he can deliver a defense bill buffeted by pressures from conservatives to limit abortions and gender-affirming health care.

McCarthy’s math is complicated. Both parties have lawmakers who vote against the defense bill every year. If the House adopts amendments to satisfy GOP conservatives, leaders risk alienating even more Democrats than usual, and perhaps more moderate Republicans, dooming the legislation. For Democrats, restrictions on abortion and transgender care loom as a red line.

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.) staved off some of the more inflammatory amendments when the committee considered the bill. Smith, the ranking member, had warned against ruining “decades of comity” and urged the GOP to “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.” Roxana Tiron previews the issues they’ll contend with ahead of floor votes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a letter yesterday said advancing that chamber’s version of NDAA is among priorities the Senate will tackle during the upcoming work period. “We must continue to compete globally and deepen our strategic ties with our allies and partners, so I hope to move this bill quickly,” he wrote.


  • Senators return today to vote on Xochitl Torres Small’s nomination to be the Agriculture Department’s deputy secretary.
  • The House is back tomorrow with votes set later this week on the annual defense policy bill.


  • At 8:05 a.m. EDT, Biden will meet with King Charles III, philanthropists, and investors at Windsor Castle to discuss climate efforts.
  • At 12:55 p.m. EDT, Biden will arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania for the 74th NATO summit.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kayla Sharpe at ksharpe@bloombergindustry.com

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