US Senate passes record $858 billion defense bill, sends bill to Biden

On December 15, US President Biden delivered a speech at the closing ceremony of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington.Susan Walsh/AP

The U.S. Senate passed legislation on Thursday authorizing a record $858 billion in annual defense spending, $45 billion more than President Joe Biden has proposed, and scrapping the military’s mandate for a COVID vaccine.

The senators overwhelmingly backed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Pentagon’s must-pass bill setting policy every year, with a bipartisan majority of 83-11.

Both liberals, who oppose a growing military budget, and fiscal conservatives, who want tighter controls on spending, voted against it.

With the measure passed by the House last week, the defense authorization bill next heads to the White House, where Biden is expected to quickly sign it into law.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 authorizes $858 billion in military spending, which includes a 4.6 percent pay increase for the military, funding for the purchase of weapons, ships and aircraft, as well as support for Taiwan in response to Chinese aggression and Ukraine in response to an invasion of Russia.

The vote means Congress has passed the NDAA every year since 1961.

“This is the most important bill we do every year,” Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. This year’s NDAA is named after Inhofe, who is retiring from the Senate.

Because it’s one of the few major bills that always passes, lawmakers use the NDAA as a vehicle for a range of initiatives.

This year’s measure comes after months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, and includes a State Department mandate and legislation that would allow U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges to protect their personal information from being viewed online.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 includes a provision requested by many Republicans and opposed by many Democrats that would require the Secretary of Defense to revoke the authorization to require members of the armed forces to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Efforts to amend the bill to reward back pay and restore troops who refused to be vaccinated have failed.

The bill provides at least $800 million in additional security aid to Ukraine next year and includes a series of provisions to strengthen Taiwan amid tensions with China, including billions of dollars in security aid and fast-track arms purchases for Taiwan.

The bill authorizes more money to develop hypersonic weapons, close the Red Mountain bulk fuel storage facility in Hawaii, and buy weapons systems including Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets and ships made by General Dynamics.

The NDAA is not the final word on spending. The enabling act creates the program, but Congress must pass the appropriations bill, giving the government legal authority to use federal funds.

A bill to fund the government until Sept. 30, 2023, the end of the fiscal year, is expected to pass Congress next week.

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