NDAA: House lists demands for Pentagon on Russia, extremism, inflation

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House lawmakers on Thursday approved an $840 billion plan to guide Pentagon policy and spending in the coming year, giving strong bipartisan support for legislation aimed at helping the United States become more technologically advanced To compete with China, correct mistakes made during last year’s disengagement from Afghanistan and improve scrutiny of military aid delivered to Ukraine, and aim to increase domestic extremism.

The legislation, which is considered one of the few bills Congress must draft each year, has yet to be compared with the Senate’s version. The text of this document has not been released and is expected to change something about how much money will go to the Department of Defense. Implementation of the defense bill will also depend on congressional appropriations, which are ongoing — and may not cover all of the programs approved in the legislation.

The House bill pays close attention to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s breakthroughs in hypersonic weapons and other cutting-edge military technology, and the rampant inflation plaguing the US economy. It also directs military leaders to analyze the dangers posed by those in uniform who espouse white racial beliefs, neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism. The legislation specifically mentions the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose prominent role in last year’s attack on the US Capitol was an intense focus of federal prosecutors and the House Special Committee conducting a parallel investigation.

The Pentagon promised to counter extremism within the ranks. Experts say more needs to be done after January 6th.

The bipartisan endorsement reflected in Thursday’s vote did not go hand in hand with every provision. For example, all Republicans voted against a measure requiring a report to Congress on efforts to combat the threat of white supremacy and neo-Nazism in the ranks. Other amendments, mostly falling along the party line, included guidelines to stream the trials of Guantánamo Bay detainees online, establish certain fair labor standards for military contractors, and guarantee victims of harassment and discrimination that their cases will be heard within 180 days .

Regarding Russia, in addition to demanding that the US military in Europe detach itself from the Kremlin’s energy supplies, the House of Representatives voted this week to prevent Moscow from trading gold or rejoining international organizations. Lawmakers also ordered the Pentagon to implement better accounting practices for all US military aid to Ukraine within six months and directed the Defense Department’s inspector general to report semi-annually on the US response to Russian aggression.

As the war in Ukraine falters, US assessments are put to the test

The bill calls for a study into what resources NATO needs to deter Russian aggression and allocates $100 million to train Ukrainian pilots — a signal of Congress’ intention to invest in Kiev’s capability, both airborne and military fight on the ground too.

Regarding China, lawmakers supported measures to expand its global presence and strengthen US-Taiwan relations, including feasibility studies to improve military cooperation.

Regarding Afghanistan, while the underlying law called for improvements to the convoluted visa-processing system that resulted in thousands of American allies being left behind after US personnel withdrew, the House of Representatives added several changes aimed at increasing the “capacity ‘ to bring more eligible Afghans into the United States. These include instructions to remove requirements for Afghans applying for student visas to declare their intention to return to Afghanistan and for the Pentagon to develop plans for reimbursement for U.S. soldiers and veterans involved in the evacuation of visa-eligible Afghans personal expenses have helped.

Some of the amendments approved by the House of Representatives are likely to complicate President Biden‘s foreign policy priorities, including a provision that would temporarily halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the assassination of Washington Post journalist and contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Biden is in Saudi Arabia trying to reshape ties with leaders the US government believes ordered the assassination.

There is also a provision banning the sale of F-16s to Turkey without the Biden administration first providing certain guarantees about their use – a restriction that could complicate efforts, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opposition to dissuade Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.

House tries to avoid chaotic political arguments over the Pentagon’s bill

Many of the provisions added to the Defense Act this week were designed to improve working conditions for military personnel at a time when military families are facing growing economic and health challenges. The House of Representatives voted for a 4.6 percent wage increase for staff with an additional 2.4 percent increase – “inflationary wages” – for those earning $45,000 and a signal to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that he may increase this amount if the inflation rate worsens.

The House also voted in a number of amendments to expand investment in military health care, with a particular focus on combating exposure to toxins and treating mental health. Among them is a provision that would give the green light to research into whether ecstasy and other psychedelic drugs are viable substitutes for opioids or for treating post-traumatic stress.

While the bill sidesteps the national abortion debate unfolding after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it Roe v. calf, it directs the Pentagon to take various steps to combat reproductive health, including a pilot program to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It requires new demographic tracking by the military when it comes to reports from medical workers, which is part of a broader trend to address differences related to race, ethnicity, and gender identity.

Finally, the bill includes measures that the House of Representatives has approved in recent years but have not become law. These include provisions revoking the use of military force authorizations granted in 2002, 1991 and 1957 to authorize military operations in the Middle East. Also included in the legislation are orders to eliminate state disparities in punishing crack and powder cocaine, give cannabis companies access to the US banking system, and give the Mayor of DC the same power as the governors of all 50 states to use the National Guard for local purposes to mobilize emergencies.

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