WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would cut annual defense spending to a record $858 billion, $45 billion more than President Joe Biden had proposed, and repeal the military’s Covid vaccine mandate. Senators backed the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the annual must-pass bill-setting measure for the Pentagon by an 83-11 bipartisan majority.
The no votes came from a mix of liberals who oppose an ever-growing military budget and fiscal conservatives who want tighter controls on spending. With the House of Representatives passing the measure last week, the NDAA next heads to the White House, where Biden is expected to quickly sign it into law.
The fiscal year 2023 NDAA authorizes $858 billion in military spending and a 4.6% pay raise for troops, funds purchases of weapons, ships, and aircraft, and supports Taiwan fighting Chinese and Ukrainian occupation. by Russia “This is the most important bill we do every year,” Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
The 2022 NDAA is named after Inhofe, who is retiring from the Senate. Because it is one of the few major bills that always pass, lawmakers use the NDAA as a vehicle for a wide variety of initiatives. This year’s measure, which was the subject of months of debate between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, includes the State Department’s authority to allow US Supreme Court justices and federal judges to protect their personal information from being viewed online.
The fiscal 2023 NDAA demanded by many Republicans — and opposed by many Democrats — would have required the defense secretary to rescind the mandate to vaccinate members of the armed forces against COVID-19. A bid to amend the bill to reimburse and reinstate soldiers who refused the vaccine failed. The bill would provide at least $800 million in additional security aid to Ukraine next year and contains several provisions to bolster Taiwan amid tensions with China, including billions of dollars in security aid and faster arms procurement for Taiwan.
Taiwan’s defense ministry thanked the support, saying the planned measures would contribute to the island’s military readiness and “ensure the freedom, openness, peace, and stability of the Indo-Pacific region”. The bill grants more funding to develop hypersonic weapons, close the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility in Hawaii and buy weapons systems, including Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jets and ships made by General Dynamics.
NDA is not the final word on cost. Authorization bills create programs, but Congress must pass appropriations bills to give the government legal authority to spend federal money. A bill that would fund the government through Sept. 30, 2023 — the end of the fiscal year — is expected to pass Congress next week.