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Culture clash in the US House puts crucial defense bill at risk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Things got heated in the U.S. House of Representatives as the Republican-led chamber shook up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with controversial amendments on abortion and transgender health services. This move has jeopardized the chances of the defense policy bill becoming law.

In a party-line vote, House members rallied behind a series of measures driven by the Republican party’s hard right, much to the dismay of Democrats, who accused their counterparts of stirring up a “culture war” within this essential legislation and made it clear that they would not lend their support.

One amendment, with a vote of 221 to 213, seeks to overturn the Defense Department’s policy of reimbursing service members’ abortion-related expenses. Another, voted on with a count of 222 to 211, aims to ban the Pentagon from funding gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments.

Additionally, the House had to confront two proposals to reduce aid for Ukraine as it confronts Russia. However, with strong bipartisan backing for Kyiv, these proposals were defeated by votes of 341 to 89 and 358 to 70. Notably, all the votes against aid came from Republicans.

The NDAA is a major legislative piece that Congress manages to pass each year, authorizing a whopping $886 billion in spending for the Department of Defense. Yet, this year, the inclusion of divisive social issues is putting its chances of becoming law at risk, after being successfully passed annually for over six decades. In the House, where Republicans hold a 222-212 seat majority, they can pass their version of the NDAA without Democratic support. However, it’s worth noting that Democrats have a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate.

As the amendment votes continued, the Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee, who initially crafted the bill, took the unprecedented step of announcing their opposition to the amended NDAA.

“The bill we presented from the committee carried a resolute, united message to our allies, competitors, and the American people that democracy still thrives, and Congress remains fully functional,” they passionately declared in a joint statement.

“Regrettably, that bill no longer exists. What was once a testament to compromise and effective governance has morphed into a hymn of intolerance and ignorance,” they lamented.

On the other side, Republicans accused Democrats of injecting “propaganda” into the military and weakening the strength of U.S. forces by promoting diversity and inclusion programs.

“We want our military to refocus on its core mission of neutralizing threats and blowing stuff up, just like it’s meant to,” exclaimed Republican Representative Chip Roy, expressing the viewpoint of his party.

It’s important to note that the NDAA has several hurdles to overcome before becoming law. While the House could pass its version as early as Friday, the Senate is not expected to vote on its bill until later this month.

Once both chambers have passed their separate bills, lawmakers will work together to find a middle ground and produce a compromise version. For it to become law or be vetoed by President Joe Biden, this agreed-upon version must then pass both the House and Senate.

Since 1961, Congress has consistently managed to pass the NDAA every year.

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