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US House Passes Controversial Defence Spending Bill

The US House of Representatives has narrowly passed a defense department annual budget that includes controversial amendments on abortion and gender reassignment surgery.

The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) must still be passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate, which is unlikely to approve the existing bill.

Democrats say Republicans have hijacked the bill and risk US national security.

The $886bn (£675bn) bill funds the Pentagon for one year.

It also sets its policy agenda and includes a 5.2% pay rise for troops and measures to address China and Russia.

The narrow margin – 219 to 210 – by which the annual defence bill passed the House is yet another indication of the sharp partisan divides within the chamber. Only four Democrats supported the spending package, while four Republicans opposed it.

Military expenditures are usually one area that garners broad bipartisan support in Washington – few politicians want to be seen as soft on national security, and big military contracts are often a way legislators can direct federal money – and jobs – to their home constituencies.

Conservative Republicans, however, have been focused on using the defence legislation to advance hot-button cultural and social priorities, including limiting government support for abortion and transgender health services.

That virtually ensured Democrats would oppose the bill en masse.

“The hyper-partisan GOP bill undermines our military readiness and hurts America’s national security,” Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said on Twitter.

In 2019, the roles were reversed – with Republicans largely opposing that year’s defence bill because Democrats included provisions blocking new admissions to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, preventing the redirection of military funds for a Mexican border wall and restricting the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons.

Measures added by Republicans to this year’s bill stop the White House from sending cluster munitions to Ukraine and to prohibit US security assistance to the country were blocked by the full House.

But conservative social issues made it through, including eliminating the Pentagon’s offices of diversity, equity and inclusion.

While the passage of this defence bill is a victory for congressional conservatives, Democrats in the Senate are working on their own military spending legislation, which is unlikely to contain the House’s controversial abortion and transgender provisions.

The two chambers – and the two parties – will have to reconcile their differences in order for the legislation to be enacted into law. That may be a challenging task, however, as House conservatives could rebel if Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy makes concessions to his political opponents.

Congress successfully has passed the annual defence spending legislation for 62 straight years – a streak that will be in jeopardy unless one side backs down – or both sides compromise.

Source : BBC