An $858 billion bipartisan defense spending bill was passed Thursday night in the Senate, with its next stop at President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2023 fiscal year passed by an 83-11 vote in the upper chamber, and includes a 4.6 percent pay raise for service members and increased support for Ukraine and Taiwan, according to a summary from the House Armed Services Committee.
The defense bill also delivers a blow to Biden’s COVID-19 policy, repealing the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate for service members within 30 days of enactment. The White House has previously stated that ending the mandate is a “mistake,” but added that the president would look at the bill in its “entirety.”
The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., on January 22, 2018. The Senate passed a national defense spending bill Thursday night that would repeal the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members, but would not reinstate those previously discharged for refusing to comply with the vaccine policy.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
The Senate rejected an amendment to the bill that would reinstate service members who were discharged for failure to comply with the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, announced in August 2021. The amendment, proposed by Senators Ron Johnson from Wisconsin and Ted Cruz from Texas, was struck down 54-40, according to reporter Mona Salama.
According to U.S. News and World Report, over 8,000 service members have been discharged for not adhering to the vaccine mandate. The Marines, although much smaller than the other three military branches, has discharged 3,717, according to the report.
In September, 47 Republicans sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “demanding answers” on the vaccine mandate after the Pentagon failed to meet its recruitment targets. House Minority Leader Kevin McCathy had also recently told Biden that “if he wants the NDAA, you have got to lift the vaccinate mandate on our military men and women.”
First-term Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn also spoke out on the mandate on Fox News last week, promising that Republicans were “working to be certain that we get included in the [NDAA] the ability to keep [the Department of Defense] from firing our men and women in uniform because they are not taking a COVID shot.”
Politico reported that Biden had originally requested an $802 billion budget. Other key focuses of the bill include $30 billion for nuclear weapons development and a $19 billion increase toward curbing inflation.
The Senate also passed a one-week stopgap bill, 71-19, to avert a government shutdown while lawmakers finish hammering out a full-year government spending package. The bill will extend funding until December 23. According to Reuters, the final package is estimated to tally around $1.7 trillion, funding federal agencies through September 30, 2023.