The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense
The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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