Far-right opponents of the $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022 tried to make the debate about transgender health care access in the military but ultimately failed as the bipartisan bill passed the House in a 363 to 70 vote last night.
The NDAA is legislation to fund the military that is considered “must-pass” legislation each year. But it stalled this year, in part because of some Republicans’ attempts to paint it as a “woke military agenda” that would fund, among other things, gender affirming health care for transgender service members.
The NDAA passed the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee in September but stalled in the full Senate, leading some to speculate about what would happen if Congress didn’t pass an NDAA this year.
169 Democrats and 194 Republicans voted for a compromise NDAA bill last night; 51 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against the bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did not vote on it.
“The NDAA, in its current form, would push through a woke military agenda like we’ve never seen before,” said extreme conservative Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) before the bill passed.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) led a group of far-right opponents to the bill who said the military would provide “no defense at all” if the NDAA is passed. The Congress members wrote an op-ed for The Hill where they argued that the bill “perpetuates the woke, CRT [critical race theory] indoctrination, funding for transition surgeries, and drafting of women.”
The bill does not appear to say anything directly about gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people. Biggs and his colleagues linked a Roll Call article to show that the bill “perpetuates… funding for transition surgeries,” and that article only describes an amendment to ban such funding that was not included in the compromise NDAA.
Another amendment to ban transgender people from serving openly in the military was also left out of the compromise bill.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) also made transgender people the central reason he voted against the NDAA.
“Alabama citizens overwhelmingly reject taxpayers being forced to pay medical expenses for those who engage in transgender surgery and a life-time of costly hormonal treatments, reject Marxist and racist Critical Race Theory being forced down the throats of American service members, reject subjecting teenage girls to a military draft, reject using national security to promote private-sector unionization, reject the denial of due process for those who exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, and the like,” he told Alabama Political Reporter.
Biggs and other Republicans also strongly opposed the bill because it doesn’t ban the Biden administration from requiring servicemembers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered servicemembers to get vaccinated – servicemembers are already required to get a number of vaccinations – in order to better protect national security.
“Currently thousands of military men and women, in whom we place significant trust and in whom we have invested heavily, are at risk of being tossed from the military because they do not want to receive Biden’s mandated COVID vax,” the Biggs op-ed states.
The NDAA compromise bill contains several progressive changes to the status quo. The bill would change how sexual assault and harassment are handled by the military, requiring each branch of the military to establish an office to handle the prosecution of those crimes and banning military commanders from making decisions about prosecutions of those crimes.
It would also make sexual harassment a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for the first time.
“The sexual assault reform provisions that we have in this bill are the most transformational thing that has been done in this committee in my 25 years of serving,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. “As we all know, for years we have dealt with the reality that sexual assault is not being adequately dealt with in the military.”
The bill also gives servicemembers a 2.7% pay increase and creates an allowance for low-income servicemembers who need more help due to the pandemic.
The bill establishes an independent Afghanistan War Commission to examine that war that lasted for two decades and to seek “accountability” for military equipment left in that country.
Republicans’ hackles were raised because the bill bans the U.S. military from buying products made in forced labor camps in the Xinjian province of China. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has already put a hold on the Senate version of the bill just because of that provision.
Many progressives also opposed the NDAA. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) said that the bill doesn’t do enough to fight racism in the military.
“At a time when Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch, it is an unconscionable failure to deliver a National Defense Authorization Act that does not meet the values of equity and justice for which we have long strived or a bill that does not meaningfully protect the foundations of our democracy,” he said in a statement.
Other progressives balked at the price tag, arguing that social welfare programs need the funding more than the military does.
“$770 Billion to the Pentagon just easily passed the house 363-70,” tweeted Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). “I voted No.”
“It is astounding how quickly Congress moves weapons but we can’t ensure housing, care, and justice for our veterans, nor invest in robust jobs programs for districts like mine.”
The bill now goes back to the Senate, which is expected to vote on it this week. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it if it passes the Senate.