Lawmakers settled on negotiations regarding the annual defense budget late Tuesday night, unveiling the major policy bill that seeks to allocate nearly $858 billion toward the National Defense Authorization Act.
The NDAA, which outlines the annual budget for military spending, was unveiled late Tuesday night and includes a top line of $857.9 billion — surpassing what President Joe Biden requested as well as what the House and Senate Armed Services committees initially proposed. If passed, the legislation would increase the budget for the Pentagon as well as implement a number of other unrelated pet projects lawmakers sought to include for passage.
Because the NDAA is routinely enacted each year, lawmakers frequently seek to use the legislation to tack on additional measures that are often unrelated as a way to expedite their passage. Not all lawmakers are successful in these efforts, with several pieces of legislation being cut in the final hours of negotiations.
Here are some of the pet policies that survived inclusion in the NDAA that passed Tuesday night, as well as the measures that were killed at the last minute.
Marijuana banking bill: Out
Lawmakers cut the inclusion of bipartisan legislation that would allow cannabis companies to access banking institutions and create grants for state expungement of past marijuana convictions, throwing the bill that has been in the works for years back to the drawing board.
The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit federal regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide banking services to legal cannabis businesses in states where marijuana use is legal, ensuring these companies are not locked out of banking systems and avoiding cash-only businesses.
Critics opposed including the measure in the NDAA, arguing it would undermine the ability to investigate money laundering or other wrongdoings. Others denounced its inclusion in the defense budget as “a cheap political trick.”
Elimination of COVID-19 vaccine mandate: In
Republican leaders were successful in their efforts to repeal the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military members in the NDAA budget proposal, a previously imposed mandate that has already resulted in the discharge of thousands of soldiers.
The measure would encourage Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to ensure all service members who were discharged are able to receive their full veterans benefits despite not receiving the vaccine. It would also require Austin to submit a report to Congress detailing the department’s efforts to standardize requests for religious and administrative vaccine exemptions.
Both Austin and Biden sought to keep the vaccine mandate instated, arguing the “mandate has kept people healthy.”
Big Tech paying news outlets for content: Out
Lawmakers shot down a proposal that would’ve required Big Tech firms to pay news outlets for their content, allowing the outlets to negotiate for larger shares of ad revenue.
That proposal was met with pushback from some Big Tech companies, including Facebook parent company Meta, that threatened to remove news content from its platform altogether if the measure was passed. Opponents of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act argued the bill would harm conservative and independent journalism, particularly local newspapers. Proponents said it would have given money to struggling local news outlets because it would have required tech firms to negotiate payout terms “in good faith” with news publishers for distributing their content.
Overhaul of sexual assault and military justice cases: In
Congress included a modified version of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act that would seek to “professionalize” how the military handles allegations of sexual assault and other crimes by stripping commanders of judicial duties and handing those responsibilities to trained military prosecutors.
The proposal comes in response to a record number of sexual assault reports in recent years. Roughly 8.4% of female military members reported being assaulted, as well as 1.5% of men, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Department of Defense.
Energy permitting bill: Out
Lawmakers excluded the inclusion of Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) long sought-after Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 from the NDAA, a second failed attempt for the West Virginia senator to get his bill passed this year.
The measure sought to overhaul various environmental review and permitting processes for energy infrastructure projects, helping to fast-track energy projects. The bill faced opposition from both parties, albeit for different reasons, resulting in its removal from the defense budget.
Despite the setback, Manchin’s permitting legislation is not entirely dead. Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in reforming the federal permitting process, making it likely that discussion on an overhaul could materialize in the next Congress.
Increased Ukraine funding: In
Lawmakers agreed to allocate at least $800 million in additional assistance to Ukraine as part of its defense budget, about $500 million more than Biden’s initial request earlier this year.
The NDAA would also require U.S. inspectors general to produce a report to Congress regarding aid that has been given to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, which is likely to become an oversight priority once Republicans take control of the House in January.
Increased restrictions on Chinese semiconductors: In
Lawmakers approved a proposal that would prohibit the government from making deals with companies that use semiconductors made by Chinese military contractors, arguing the use of such chips poses a national security risk.
The proposal was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who argued the bill was needed to “stay tough” on the Chinese government. The bill would expand existing restrictions on the U.S. government’s use of Chinese semiconductor chips.