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15 Dec, 2023 05:02

US lawmakers pass $886 billion defense bill with Ukraine aid

The legislation marks a $28 billion increase to Washington’s military budget over last year
US lawmakers pass $886 billion defense bill with Ukraine aid

The US House and Senate have passed a sweeping military spending bill worth more than $886 billion; it includes $300 million in additional aid for Ukraine, a tiny percentage of what was originally sought for Kiev by the White House. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law.

Congress voted 310 to 118 to approve the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Thursday, which also passed through the Senate in a 87-13 vote. The bill authorizes a wide range of military spending, from pay raises for troops to funds for new weapons, and represents a 3% increase in the US defense budget compared to last year.

While legislators are still working out a separate $105 billion bill that would devote yet more military assistance to Ukraine and Israel, the new NDAA includes just $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative through the year 2026, which will be used to purchase arms for Kiev directly from defense contractors. The program was almost fully depleted following dozens of prior aid packages since last year, with $1 billion remaining as of Thursday afternoon.

The largest military spending authorization in US history, the bill was passed separately in the Senate and the House earlier this year, but faced lengthy negotiations as lawmakers struggled to reconcile a final version to send to President Biden’s desk.

Among the sticking points were provisions related to controversial social issues, such as access to abortion in the military and medical treatment for transgender servicemembers. While the bill had included such language initially, much of it was later removed by the Republican-majority House after it prompted vocal objections from conservative lawmakers.

“There is no justification for supporting a bill that does not materially change the direction of our military away from social engineering,” Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy said ahead of Thursday’s vote. He added that the legislation would only continue the “woke policies undermining our military.”

However, some GOP members were far less critical, with Rep. Mike Rogers saying the bill “goes a long way toward ending woke policies being forced on our service members by left-wing bureaucrats.”

Lawmakers also battled over a measure to reauthorize powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allow the government to surveil non-US persons located outside the country. Critics of the program say it effectively authorizes warrantless spying on Americans, however, as it permits ‘incidental’ collection on US citizens who are in contact with foreign suspects. In the compromise legislation, the powers were renewed until mid-April 2024.

Also included in the NDAA is a 5.2% pay raise for US service members – the largest in over two decades – as well as $168 billion for weapons procurement, $145 billion for research and development and $32 billion for the US nuclear arsenal.

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