Repeals Pentagon vaccination mandate within 30 days of enactment. The provision is a victory for Republicans who argue that forcing thousands out of the ranks for not receiving the vaccine has exacerbated an already tenuous recruiting and retention environment for the military.
Administration officials say Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are complying with the vaccine mandate as a matter of health and readiness for the military. But by signing the bill, Biden will effectively agree to end the policy. The White House has given no indication that the commander in chief is considering vetoing the mandatory passage bill.
The move also significantly revises Biden’s $802 billion budget request, which drew criticism from both parties. Lawmakers agreed to push the top line to buy more weapons and address the impact of stubborn inflation on the Pentagon, the troops and the supply chain.
The final bill authorizes $847 billion in national defense funding, $45 billion more than Biden was seeking. The Pentagon gets $817 billion of that, while $30 billion would go toward nuclear weapons development overseen by the Department of Energy. The total rises to $858 billion when accounting for accounts not normally under the jurisdiction of Armed Forces committees.
Both parties also touted that $19 billion of Biden’s budget increase goes toward mitigating inflation. The measure also invested $32.6 billion in shipbuilding to purchase 11 new hulls, more than the eight ships the Navy was seeking to acquire. It also authorizes 69 F-35 fighters, eight more than requested by the Pentagon. The bill halts Biden’s plans to kill a nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile in development and scrap America’s inventory of B83 nuclear gravity bombs.
It is the second year in a row that Congress has struck down Biden’s military spending plans in the tens of billions of dollars.
The agreement, which was introduced last week by the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services panels, passed after days of wrangling in the upper house over efforts by senators to change the bill in the last moment.
In the end, the Senate shot down a couple of amendments that would have sent the bill back to the House before it could reach Biden’s desk.
Senators resisted a conservative push to go even further and reverse the vaccine mandate. A Sens proposal. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and ted cross (R-Texas) that would have paved the way for reinstating troops who were kicked out of the military for refusing the Covid vaccine and giving them back pay failed in a vote of 40-54. Democrats have resisted the measure, though they agreed to dismantle the policy that would separate staff who do not get vaccinated.
Several conservative senators had clamored for a stronger measure. The vote anticipates a fight that may occur next year when Republicans control the House and will again try to force the issue.
A review of permitting processes for energy projects pushed by the West Virginia Democrat was also defeated. Joe Manchin. The vote was prompted by the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), who along with House Speaker nancy pelosi (D-Calif.) reached an agreement with centrist Manchin on the legislation.
Final talks on the defense bill were delayed in part because of a push by Schumer and Pelosi to attach Manchin’s permit reform measure to the defense policy bill. But the amendment was defeated on Thursday in a vote of 47-47.
Both proposals required 60-vote majorities to be added to the bill, making them heavily show votes.
The bill is named for Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe, a defense hawk who previously chaired the panel, will resign from the Senate at the end of the session.
The move also reflects an increasingly bipartisan hawkish stance on China.
The agreement includes provisions, promoted by the president of Foreign Affairs of the Senate Bob Menendez (DN.J.), which authorizes up to $10 billion in military assistance from the State Department for Taiwan over five years.
Also incorporates a proposal from Schumer and Texas Republican john cornyn that prohibits federal agencies and contractors from using semiconductors produced by three specific Chinese chipmakers.
Lawmakers will also have to pass full-year funding legislation to make the Pentagon’s big budget increase a reality. The Senate is expected to remove a budget Band-Aid to keep government running over the next week, while House and Senate Appropriations committee leaders negotiate a full-year funding package, likely to reflect current levels. budgets in the defense policy bill.