The Senate is poised to adopt the proposed $886.3 billion fiscal year 2024 defense budget next week before sending the massive appropriations package to the House floor for approval and on to President Joe Biden’s desk by year’s end.
The 3,093-page Pentagon spending plan, or National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), earmarks $841.5 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD)—nearly $32 billion, or 3 percent, more than the fiscal year 2023 NDAA—$32.26 billion for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and $12.1 billion in defense-related allocations for other federal agencies.
Included is a 5.2 percent pay raise for uniformed service members, boosted funding for the U.S. Navy to build 10 surface warships—most notably an amphibious warship the Marine Corps lobbied for but the Navy did not request—and 13 Virginia class attack submarines over the next five years, instead of the proposed 10, increased funding for retaining F-15s and F-16s, and initiatives to counter China in the Pacific, Russia in Europe, and aid Israel in the Middle East.
But what is not included in the draft NDAA negotiated since October by a joint-chamber conference led by Senate and House Armed Service Committee members is drawing the most heat, especially from House conservatives, since the proposed budget was unveiled late Dec. 6.
Excluded are notable “culture war” amendments inserted into the House version of the defense budget during months of heated, often hours-long debates banning the DOD’s paid leave policy for service members traveling for abortions, gender-transition treatments and surgeries for transgender service members and their families, and funding for on-base drag shows.
Surviving House amendments include defunding—not banning but simply not providing money for—critical race theory programs and hiring for diversity, equity, and inclusion positions. The draft NDAA also requires the DOD to consider reinstating service members discharged for refusing COVID vaccinations.
Critics in both chambers are also objecting to the proposed NDAA’s extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s (FISA) Section 702 through mid- April 2025. The section allows for warrantless surveillance by the FBI of non-U.S. citizens outside the country, but Americans have been incidentally swept into FISA-authorized investigations.
Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) are among conservatives vocally vowing to derail the proposed defense unless amendments are restored and FISA concerns are addressed.
“The watered-down NDAA should NOT be passed by the House GOP,” Mr. Roy said in a Dec. 7 X post. “It was jammed through with no real conference, punts fixes on abortion, transgender, even drag shows, adds FISA extension with no reforms.”
The 47-member House conference appointees only met with Senate appointees in full session once in late November to iron out differences between chamber plans.
The draft NDAA was almost exclusively negotiated by House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Mr. Roy said.
“There was not a true formal conference committee,” he said, calling the draft budget “a 4 corners deal … it’s a bad bill.”
Ms. Greene, noting she was on the NDAA conference committee but never “got to work on the final version,” said in a Dec.7 X post that the draft budget was crafted “behind closed doors and here are the horrible results. I’m a [expletive] NO!”
While the Senate this week shot down a $106 billion supplementary spending bill because, in addition to add-on money for border security and Israel, it includes funding for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion, the draft NDAA earmarks at least $350 million in Pentagon allocations for the Kyiv regime.
Ms. Greene is among vocal House opponents of sending any money to Ukraine, dismissing the standard annual earmark as “more of your taxpayer dollars sent to Ukraine to fund the proxy war.”
Mr. Lee, also in a series of X posts and statements, called the spending plan “a Christmas tree for the military-industrial complex—and for special interests with loud voices.”
He said he has “no choice” but to oppose the NDAA because it included an “unacceptable” reauthorization of FISA 702. “FBI won, Americans lost,” he said.
In a Dec. 7 ‘Dear Colleague Letter” to House Republicans, House Speaker Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) said the negotiated draft NDAA provides the nation’s “warfighters with the tools they need to do their job and the resources required to support their families.”
He said the House will begin deliberations on the defense budget as soon as to arrives from Senate, likely next week. The aim is to get it to the president’s desk by year’s end, he said.
The NDAA is one of 12 annual appropriations bills that constitute the nation’s yearly budget. Only four have been adopted by both chambers with the federal government now largely operating under continuing resolutions that sustain fiscal year 2023 funding levels.
“While no compromise with the Democrat-led Senate and White House would be perfect, the final product includes meaningful changes to return the Department of Defense’s focus back to the business of defending our nation and away from social experiments in woke ideology,” Mr. Johnson said in his letter, noting Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have assured him the Senate “would take up the FISA reform issue and work on it in good faith.”
A 718-page Joint Explanatory Statement, released by the House and Senate armed services committees on Dec. 7, cites among highlights significant funding increases “for research and development of new weapons systems incorporating artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles, and other emerging technologies, while bolstering funding for military housing among other quality-of-life enhancements.”
A joint statement by Messrs. Reed, Wicker, Rogers, and Smith said the draft budget follows “months of hard-fought and productive negotiations” to reach a bipartisan consensus that “strengthens our national security and supports our servicemembers.”
“Providing for our national defense is Congress’s most important responsibility under the U.S. Constitution, and the NDAA is key to fulfilling that duty,” they said. “Our nation faces unprecedented threats from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. It is vital that we act now to protect our national security.”
It calls on both chambers to “pass the NDAA quickly” and for President Biden “to sign it when it reaches his desk.”