Congress passes annual defense bill in bipartisan vote that split Colorado delegation

· Dec. 14, 2023, 10:02 am
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The U.S. Capitol.

Updated at 11:14 a.m.

Congress passed the annual defense policy bill Thursday morning with strong bipartisan votes in both chambers.  The compromise measure left out many divisive culture war issues pushed by hard right conservatives in the House of Representatives.

The $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which lays out defense policy and a  spending plan, passed the House 310-118, after clearing the Senate, 87-13, Wednesday night.

Colorado Reps. Joe Neguse, Lauren Boebert, Doug Lamborn, Jason Crow, Brittany Petersen and Yadira Caraveo voted for the bill. Reps. Diana DeGette and Ken Buck voted against.

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden.

“It makes a lot of great strides towards helping our national defense,” said GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn, who chairs the Armed Services Committee subcommittee on Strategic Forces. “I had a hand in the hypersonics piece, where we beef that up because the Chinese are way ahead of us.”

The bill includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for service members, plus  $38 million for new family housing and $350 million for barracks. It also helps military spouses who have businesses by expanding reimbursements for moving their business when service members transfer. Spouses who work for the federal government will also become eligible for  telework so they can keep their government jobs in those cases.

The bill also includes a temporary extension of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which outlines how the federal government can collect information about non-U.S. citizens.

GOP Rep. Ken Buck said he supports national defense, but not the current price tag or lack of fiscal accountability. "Congress cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the serious waste, fraud, and abuse at the DOD by passing these massive spending packages with no attention to their cost or efficacy," he said in a statement.

Several priorities for Colorado members were included in the NDAA. 

Rep. Lauren Boebert and Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet won support for the proposal to complete the decommissioning of the Pueblo Chemical Depot and transfer its remaining land to the community.

After the vote, a smiling Boebert said she was excited that it would be signed into law and touted the jobs that will come from redevelopment of the land.

“This is my day of victory for the Pueblo Jobs Act,” said Boebert. It was the House language that was included in the compromise bill. “I've worked very, very hard all year on that one.”

“Our bill is the result of collaboration between the Pueblo community, our military, and advocates in Colorado and Washington who know the value of investing in Southern Colorado,” said Hickenlooper. “This next step for the Pueblo Chemical Depot land will create new jobs and supercharge Pueblo’s economy.”

The NDAA includes $14.7 million in Energy Resilience and Conservation Program funds for projects at Buckley Space Force Base, and millions for military construction at Buckley, Peterson Space Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The final bill also calls for a study on the feasibility for a Space National Guard force, something Lamborn and Rep. Jason Crow have supported, and authorizes $1.1 billion for PFAS remediation, including at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs

Hickenlooper also had a number of bills he cosponsored included, such as the John Lewis Civil Rights Fellowship Act and the National American Indian Charter Act. Additional measures include requiring the Air Force to develop a plan to recapitalize active and reserve forces.

A modified provision pushed by Alabama members would also ban the use of any funds for the construction of Space Command headquarters until June 30, 2024, when the Inspector General of the Defense Department and Comptroller General will review the decision to keep Space Command in Colorado Springs.

The final bill left out two Boebert amendments that she touted when the House version passed. One would have prohibited DOD schools from having “pornographic and radical gender ideology” in libraries, while the other would require a report on higher education institutions that receive defense funding while hosting a Confucius Institute funded by the Chinese government. The conferees said there are no academic institutions operating in those circumstances.

The bill also kept in place a DOD policy for time off and pay for travel if a service member has to travel out of state for reproductive health care.

“Our service members should never be used as pawns for the extreme right to limit abortion care in this country,” said Caraveo, who, like many Democrats, voted against the House version. “I’m relieved Speaker Johnson and some of the most extreme House Republicans finally came to their senses to join us and carry on the long tradition of passing a bipartisan NDAA. I am glad to support this year’s defense spending bill, which provides the largest military pay raise in decades, supports Colorado’s military interests, and will ensure our national security is protected at home and abroad.”

Neguse also touted two of his provisions that were included. One would expand mental health access for military families by waiving out-of-pocket expenses for military families on TRICARE for the three outpatient mental health visits a year. The other develops minimum requirements for federal data centers.

Crow's legislation to bring more transparency around civilian casualties was also included.

While many social issues were excluded from the bill, it did include some, such as restrictions on critical race theory at military academies, banning the flying of “unauthorized flags” on military flags, and a hiring freeze and pay cap on diversity, equity and inclusion jobs. The new flag rule was aimed at curtailing use of LGBTQ banners.

The NDAA has passed every year for 61 years. 

More Democrats voted in favor of the bill than Republicans. Over 70 Republicans, including many in the House Freedom Caucus, and more than 40 Democrats, including many progressives, voted against the bill.

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