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Friday, August 12, 2022

House Passes $840 Billion Military Policy Bill

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed an $840 billion policy bill that would increase President Biden’s requested Pentagon budget by $37 billion, reflecting a growing bipartisan appetite in Congress to raise military spending amid new threats from Russia and China.

The legislation would grant a 4.6 percent pay raise to military personnel, limit the Biden administration’s ability to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and require top national security agencies to report on and combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi activity in federal law enforcement and the armed forces. While the measure drew wide bipartisan support, passing 329 to 101, Republicans had unanimously opposed the mandate to root out white supremacy, arguing that no such effort was needed.

The bill also contains provisions aimed at mitigating civilian deaths and injuries caused by U.S. military operations and authorizing $100 million for assistance to Ukrainian military pilots. And it would repeal the 2002 law authorizing the invasion of Iraq, which has been stretched by multiple administrations to justify military action around the world.

“We have a complex threat environment, when you look at Russia and China and Iran,” said Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “The war in Ukraine is a devastating threat to peace, stability, and democracy, not just in Eastern Europe, but across the globe that we are working with partners to try to address. So we have to make sure that we have a strong bill.”

House Democrats initially proposed meeting Mr. Biden’s requested military budget, but a bipartisan group on the Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly supported a measure by Representative Jared Golden, Democrat of Maine, to increase the amount by roughly 4.6 percent.

“We need only look to world events in Ukraine, read reports regarding China’s plans and actions in the South China Sea, or simply read the latest headlines about Iranian nuclear ambitions and North Korean missile tests, as well as ongoing terrorist threats, in order to see why this additional funding is necessary to meet the security challenges of our time,” Mr. Golden said.

By contrast, a perennial effort led by Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, to reduce the Pentagon’s budget — this year by $100 billion — failed on Thursday on the House floor, in a resounding show of bipartisan opposition, 350 to 78.

Also included in the military policy bill are a slew of measures aimed at mitigating civilian deaths and injuries caused by U.S. military operations, following reporting by The New York Times and others that showed that the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State has been marked by flawed intelligence, confirmation bias and scant accountability.

The legislation would establish a “commission on civilian harm” composed of a dozen expert civilians appointed by Congress to investigate “a representative sample of incidents of civilian harm that occurred where the United States used military force.”

Lawmakers also voted to add to the military policy bill an amendment that would require top national security agencies to report on and combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi activity in federal law enforcement and the armed forces, in a vote in which House Republicans were unanimously opposed.

“Such extremism is a threat to us in all segments of society. There is no reason to believe that our military is any different,” said Representative Brad Schneider, Democrat of Illinois and the sponsor of the provision. He said that instances of extremism in the United States armed forces “are rare, but we must do everything we can to identify them and to thwart them before risks become reality.”

Every Republican voted no, but only one — Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona — publicly explained his opposition on the House floor. He argued that the proposal “attempts to create a problem where none exists” and “denigrates our men and women in the service.”

“Every member of the military who showed an interest or actual participation in a white supremacist or white nationalist group has faced discipline,” Mr. Biggs said. “The relevant branch either demoted the individual, discharged them or otherwise disciplined the sympathizer.”

The vote came as the nation continues to grapple with the fallout from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which included dozens of current and former service members and which led to efforts at the Pentagon to rid extremism from the armed forces. In December, the Pentagon updated its rules against extremism, including tightening social media guidelines, changing the way it screens recruits and examining how to prevent retiring troops from being targeted by extremist organizations.

The House also approved a provision, led by Representative Kathleen Rice, Democrat of New York, that requires a review of national security agencies’ compliance with domestic terrorism reporting requirements already established by existing law. Only four Republicans backed it.

Ms. Rice said she introduced the legislation after agencies submitted “incomplete and insufficient information” in their first congressionally mandated report on domestic terrorism, which was nearly a year late.

The votes were the latest indication of Republicans’ reluctance to address the issue of white nationalism and white supremacy even as data show that such ideologies are helping to drive a growing threat of domestic violent extremism. The party has largely declined to punish lawmakers in its ranks who have cozied up to white nationalists, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona, both of whom spoke at a white nationalist conference. Mr. Gosar aligned himself closely with the conference’s leader, Nick Fuentes.

It was not clear whether the white supremacy language, which passed by a vote of 218 to 208, would survive in negotiations with the Senate on the must-pass bill. At least some Republican backing would be needed to muster the 60 votes necessary to move the measure through the evenly divided chamber.

In the House, lawmakers also voted to give the mayor of the District of Columbia the same authority over the D.C. National Guard that the governors of states and territories have over their National Guard, an attempt to address the situation that left the D.C. mayor unable to quickly dispatch Guard members to the Capitol on Jan. 6, as rioters attacked the building.

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