The United States Senate today voted overwhelmingly to approve a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024 that is drastically different from the horrific version passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives earlier this month, free of the odious riders proposed by the House’s Fascist Faction and agreed to by the McCarthy majority.
The vote was 86–11, with eight Democrats voting nay and three Republicans joining them. Two Democrats and one Republican missed the vote.
Under the Senate’s rules, a three-fifths threshold (60%) was required to pass the bill, and this threshold was easily met. Even extremely right wing senators like Tommy Tuberville, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley voted in favor of the NDAA.
The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:
Voting Yea for the NDAA: Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Jon Tester (MT); Republican Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID), Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (AK), Steve Daines (MT)
Voting Nay Against the NDAA: Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR)
Wyden and Merkley were two of the eight Democratic or independent senators voting nay. The others were Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Peter Welch of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The three Republicans voting nay were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and J.D. Vance of Ohio.
Democratic Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Dick Durbin of Illinois missed the vote, as did Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, a presidential candidate.
Washington’s Patty Murray, who now chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and serves as Senate President Pro Tempore, had plenty to say about this year’s NDAA, which, thanks to her work, incorporated a bill that she wrote to help Hanford workers and other nuclear workers elsewhere in the country obtain healthcare for diseases caused by exposure to beryllium.
“Having a strong military means more than just investments in weapons, equipment, or facilities — it means investing in the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our country safe,” Senator Murray said in a statement sent to the Northwest Progressive Institute.
“In addition to shoring up our national defense, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act takes important steps to support military families, from providing the largest pay increase for military and civilian personnel in over two decades to making continued progress to improve child care on military bases and education services for military children. Importantly, this bill also provides new authorities to help combat the flow of deadly fentanyl, which has been so devastating for communities across Washington State.”
“My legislation makes sure workers are getting support to deal with one of the most dangerous threats they face at Hanford — beryllium exposure,” Murray said on the Senate floor earlier this week, remarks that were noted in her statement.
“This is a serious health risk that can cause severe respiratory disease, irreversible scarring of the lungs, and lung cancer. Now, Congress passed legislation in 2000 providing care to those who have made incredible sacrifices by working on our nuclear arsenal but here’s the thing: not everyone who needs those critical medical benefits for beryllium exposure can get them today. That’s because the diagnostic standard is outdated and out of line with the current science.”
Murray’s office cited the following provisions as highlights of the NDAA:
- Provide a 5.2 percent pay raise for military and civilian personnel, the largest pay increase in more than 20 years.
- Authorize a pilot program to assess the effectiveness of increasing Child Development Center employee pay to increase employee recruitment and retention, part of Senator Murray’s longstanding work to improve child care on military bases.
- Improve care and education services for military families, including by authorizing DOD to provide funding to local education agencies supporting children of servicemembers and extending support for re-licensure of spouses affected by military moves and adds doula certifications to the list of eligible professions.
- Help combat the fentanyl crisis and curtail the flow of deadly fentanyl into American communities by targeting the illicit fentanyl supply chain, from chemical suppliers in China to the cartels that transport the drugs in Mexico.
- Combat toxic PFAS contamination by giving the Secretary of Defense broader authority to treat certain materials contaminated with PFAS and perform remediation at National Guard facilities operated by states. The bill also requires the Department to establish a dashboard that tracks funding related to PFAS that includes research and development efforts, testing, remediation, contaminant disposal, and community outreach.
- Expand access to infertility treatment by requiring TRICARE to cover Assisted Reproductive Technology services for members of the uniformed services and their dependents.
- Require a report on family planning and cryopreservation including the number of servicemembers who leave the service for family planning reasons, whether cryopreservation would lead to greater retention of servicemembers, and methods for DOD to offer cryopreservation to active-duty members.
- Direct the Air Force to provide a brief to the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services on what the potential increase in air refueling capacity and costing savings would be if all Air National Guard KC-135 units were made active association units. This is a continuation of Murray’s longstanding effort to get KC-135 tankers for the Washington Air National Guard to ensure the airmen at Fairchild Air Force Base have the planes they need to perform their mission and increase tanker capacity for the military.
Oregon’s Ron Wyden also provided a lengthy comment on his NDAA vote. He took the opposite position, voting against the enormous appropriations package.
“I’d like to commend my Senate colleagues for ensuring that this year’s defense policy bill received a open floor process, with the consideration of many worthy amendments across a diverse range of issues,” said Wyden.
“Ultimately, this year’s Senate bill authorizes $886 billion for the Department of Defense, national security programming, and for the Department of Energy.”
“I successfully secured $97.5 million for the Oregon National Guard to construct a much-needed special tactics complex in Portland and a readiness center in Washington County. I also worked to secure funding for the development of therapeutics that address PTSD among servicemembers, veterans, and the greater civilian population.”
“Additionally, I strongly support the inclusion of a 5.2% pay raise for both military servicemembers and the defense civilian workforce, improvements to enlisted members’ housing, greater support to military spouses and children, especially those with severe disabilities, cybersecurity protections that make it harder for our adversaries to hack servicemembers, and efforts to review and improve the TRICARE Pharmacy Benefits Program.”
“But I cannot in good conscience support spending $886 billion on military spending — nearly a $40 billion increase over both last year’s defense budget and the President’s budget request for this year. Congress simply cannot continue authorizing a massive slush fund for the Pentagon, when it remains incapable of passing a clean audit, tracking its assets, and addressing fraud.”
“This defense bill fails to include stronger budget controls, despite my efforts to add them, and I remain concerned about taxpayer dollars lining the pockets of defense contractors and billionaire investors, particularly when my colleagues across the aisle are keen on slashing housing, education, childcare and healthcare programming,” Wyden added. He is a longtime champion of better procurement.
“Congress must now reconcile differences between the Senate defense bill and the version passed by the deeply partisan House — which included provisions to limit servicemembers’ reproductive care, gender-affirming care, and diversity and equity initiatives,” Wyden observed. “Oregonians can rest assured that I will fight for their priorities and block provisions that seek to harm those who bravely wear the uniform of the United States Military.”
Passage of an NDAA is considered an annual “must-do” task for Congress, but regrettably, as Senator Wyden pointed out, Congress has been in the habit of simply raising the defense budget on an annual basis, even including funding the Pentagon didn’t ask for. The military never gets less — it only gets more.
Senator Bernie Sanders offered an amendment to change that.
It was voted down.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that my amendment to cut military spending by 10% received only 11 votes,” Sanders said. “Somehow, we never have enough money for health care, education, or housing, but always have more than enough money for a bloated and wasteful Defense Department that cannot even pass an independent audit. It’s time to change our national priorities now.”
NPI applauds Senators Wyden and Merkley for voting against this NDAA. It’s great that a part of our region’s congressional delegation took a courageous stand against continued unchecked growth in military and defense spending, with a lack of robust budget controls and reforms to procurement practices.
Senator Sanders is correct: we need to change our priorities. There are good provisions in this NDAA, and we hope they survive in the conference report.
But the bottom line is that it’s fiscally and morally irresponsible to keep giving the United States military more money while essential public services that Americans need are being underfunded or threatened with defunding.