House approves military spending bill despite progressive opposition

Washington DC - The US House of Representatives voted 363-70 to approve a $768-billion military spending bill on Tuesday as social spending hangs in the balance.

Protesters blocked access to the area around the Capitol to protest the US' enormous military spending.
Protesters blocked access to the area around the Capitol to protest the US' enormous military spending.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed each year, sets the Pentagon budget for the following year.

This time around, the final legislation was negotiated among House and Senate Armed Services committee leaders behind closed doors before the full Senate got a chance to vote on its own version, the Washington Post reported.

The 2021 bill showed a significant increase in the military budget despite the US ending its war in Afghanistan. The NDAA came in at $738 billion in 2020 .

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The bill itself calls for an independent review of US activities during the War in Afghanistan, a report on the US' "grand strategy" toward China, a $50-million investment in Ukrainian defense, and a special victims prosecutor to handle cases of sexual violence, murder, kidnapping, and child pornography within the US military.

Among other provisions, the 2021 NDAA also directs the Pentagon to study aerial phenomena (aka UFOs) and report their findings to Congress.

But the bill left out key measures, including a proposed requirement that women would have to register for the draft and another that would have put the authority to convene trials in the hands of an independent authority rather than military commanders.

Some lawmakers said the bill does not go far enough to increase protections for vulnerable groups in the military, like women and people of color.

Progressives react to NDAA's passage

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman pointed out the difference in reactions to the NDAA versus the BBB.
New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman pointed out the difference in reactions to the NDAA versus the BBB.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

But that's not the only cause for dispute with the NDAA.

Though the "defense" policy bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support, progressives are not happy that military spending gets such an easy path to passage while funding for crucial social programs remains stalled.

The Build Back Better Act (BBB) calls for a $1.75-trillion investment in social spending over ten years. That averages out to $175 billion per year – far less than the annual military budget.

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Nevertheless, the BBB remains stalled in the Senate, where Republicans, along with Democratic holdouts Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, say they are concerned with the bill's price tag.

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman reacted to the NDAA's passage by tweeting, "It is astounding how quickly Congress moves weapons but we can’t ensure housing, care, and justice for our veterans, nor invest in robust jobs programs for districts like mine."

"There was no CBO score needed. No concern about the deficit. No mention of inflation," he added, pointing out the difference in reactions to the NDAA versus the BBB.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal wrote, "This week Congress is set to authorize a $770 BILLION defense budget. That’s more than double what it would cost to end hunger in America. It’s time to cut the bloated Pentagon budget and invest in our communities."

Democrats have said they want to pass the BBB before Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's deadline of December 25, but with some of their own still on the fence, it's unclear whether that will be possible.

Cover photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto

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