US Republicans pass defence bill with anti-abortion, LGBT add-ons

Democrats say legislation, which is all but assured to fail in the US Senate, is’an ode to bigotry and ignorance’.

House Republicans
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks during a news conference after the House approved the annual defence bill [Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press]

Republicans in the United States House of Representatives have passed an annual defence funding bill that highlights the party’s conservative priorities – and sticking points – in advance of the 2024 election season.

Democrats have decried the bill approved on Friday, which included anti-LGBTQ, anti-diversity and anti-abortion rights provisions. It passed by a 219 to 210 largely party-line vote in the majority Republican chamber. Four Democrats voted in support of the bill.

While the bill is all but assured to fail in the Democrat-majority Senate, it offered a temperature of the Republican Party in the run-up to the 2024 election, with the primary season just months away.

The National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) must be approved annually by both the House and Senate before being signed into law by the president to provide funding for the US military and other defence priorities.

In a scathing letter, a group of Democrats said the funding bill is the latest instance of hyper-partisanship in the country. Funding for US defence, while perenially a matter of debate, had, to a degree, for decades largely escaped larger political fights over social and cultural issues.

“What was once an example of compromise and functioning government has become an ode to bigotry and ignorance,” the Democrats, led by Adam Smith, the party’s top legislator on the armed services committee, said in the statement.

The amendments pushed through by House Republicans included gutting diversity, equity and inclusion programmes at the Department of Defence. It banned flying pro-LGBTQ flags at military bases and ended funding for transgender-related medical services.

In perhaps the most telling reflection of the times, the bill also included a provision that would eliminate a Pentagon policy that offers time off and travel reimbursement to members of the military who must travel across states to receive an abortion.

The policy was created after the US Supreme Court last year struck down federal abortion protections, leaving some members of the military stuck on bases in states where abortion has since been made illegal.

Republican infighting

In many ways, the legislation also reflected the continuing battle between moderates and the farther-right segments of the Republican Party, which will be on full display in the primary contests ahead.

With the narrowest of majorities – five seats – in the House, Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy needed near-unanimous support for the more than 1,200-page bill. That forced him to appease ultra-conservative members of the party, who pledged not back down in negotiations.

Nevertheless, the bill provides the $866bn sought by US President Joe Biden for military funding, while including a 5.2 percent salary rise for US military members.

“Under this bill, the men and women in uniform who make sacrifices for our nation every day will receive the biggest pay raise in decades,” McCarthy said at a news conference on Friday. “Radical programmes that are forced on our troops at the expense of readiness are now eliminated.”

In a separate news conference, Rick Perry, the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, which represents the party’s farthest-right flank in the chamber, hailed the bill’s passage as “a major win for the American people”.

He said the bill seeks to stop the “Biden administration’s injection of politics and wokeness into the military”.

Still, funding for Ukraine in their war against Russia’s invasion maintained widespread support among Republicans, despite rumblings of growing opposition.

Two amendments that would have banned the US transfer of cluster bombs to Ukraine and would have blocked the $300m in funding sought by the Biden administration ended up on the cutting room floor.

Those amendments had been pushed by Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was recently removed from the Freedom Caucus for her attacks on other members of the party.

Debate over the legislation often turned heated over the last week.

In one instance, Republican Representative Eli Crane stoked outrage when used the term “coloured people” to refer to Black Americans. The archaic term is widely considered racist.

Crane later asked that the Congressional record of his statement be changed to “people of colour”.

On Friday, McCarthy called his use of the word “unacceptable”. He added he would take Crane “at his word” that it was not used intentionally.

It is not only defence funding that has fallen victim to partisan politics in Washington, hundreds of military promotions have been blocked by one Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. He has been using a rule to keep nominations from coming to the Senate floor until the Pentagon drops funding for reproductive rights including abortion.

US President Joe Biden has called the senator’s position “ridiculous” and said it was “jeopardising US security”.

Source: Al Jazeera