Senate Says ‘Yes’ To $886 Billion Defense Bill

By Victor Winston, updated on December 14, 2023

In a significant legislative move, the Senate has passed a colossal $886 billion defense bill, shaping the future of U.S. military and foreign policy.

The bill, marked by its hefty tag and comprehensive provisions, has far-reaching implications for the military and international relations.

The defense bill, garnering robust bipartisan support, was approved with an overwhelming 87-13 vote. It encapsulates a range of measures, from a substantial pay raise for U.S. troops to intricate foreign policy maneuvers. Highlighting the bill's scope is a 5.2% pay increase for U.S. service members, underscoring the nation's commitment to its military personnel.

Enhanced Military Support and Foreign Policy Adjustments

Adding to its breadth, the bill mandates the Pentagon to notify previously dismissed unvaccinated service members about their potential reinstatement. This move addresses the contentious issue of vaccine-related firings in the military.

The bill also earmarks an additional $300 million for Ukraine in 2024. This reflects continued U.S. support in the region amidst ongoing tensions. Similarly, allocating $11.5 billion to counter China's growing influence indicates a strategic pivot in U.S. foreign policy.

Another pivotal aspect of the bill is the extension of FBI surveillance powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This extension, set for four months, aims to bolster national security while balancing civil liberties concerns.

Focusing on National Security and Internal Policies

Amidst rising global health concerns, the bill firmly prohibits Pentagon funding for virus experiments at the Wuhan lab. This provision follows past allocations to EcoHealth Alliance, bringing scrutiny to such expenditures.

In a move blending military infrastructure with immigration policy, the bill ensures the use of already purchased materials for the southern border wall. This decision intertwines defense spending with border security, a subject of intense political debate.

Addressing sensitive social issues, the bill includes measures to combat critical race theory within the military. However, it notably refrains from blocking reimbursements for troops seeking abortions, maintaining the Pentagon's current stance on the matter.

Political Dynamics and Future Negotiations

Despite this legislative success, the Senate remains divided on a separate $61 billion Ukraine aid package. Republican lawmakers are insistent on coupling this aid with stringent border security measures, reflecting broader national security concerns.

President Biden is reportedly negotiating with Congress to expand border detentions and deportations. This compromise is a potential pathway to securing the much-debated Ukraine aid.

However, last week's events cast a shadow over these negotiations. Republican senators blocked a $110 billion package, which included aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, due to the absence of border security measures. This impasse underscores the intricate balancing act facing lawmakers.

Upcoming Legislative Milestones and Deadlines

The bill's passage in the Senate sets the stage for the House of Representatives, which is expected to pass the legislation by Thursday. This rapid progression underscores the bill's importance and urgency.

Meanwhile, discussions continue on the $61 billion Ukraine aid package. As the deadline for extending FBI surveillance powers looms in late December, the pressure mounts for a resolution to these complex issues.

Senator Jim Risch, a key figure in these discussions, mentioned ongoing "political discussions" to move the security package forward, indicating the dynamic nature of these negotiations.

Conclusion

The Senate's approval of the $886 billion defense bill marks a significant moment in U.S. legislative history. The bill's contents span various issues, from military pay raises to foreign policy adjustments.

  • 5.2% pay raise for U.S. troops and reinstatement options for unvaccinated service members.
  • Additional funds for Ukraine and measures to counter China's influence.
  • Extension of FBI surveillance powers and prohibitions on funding Wuhan lab virus experiments.
  • Ongoing debates over the separate $61 billion Ukraine aid package are intertwined with border security concerns.
  • Anticipation for the House's passage of the bill and the resolution of complex legislative negotiations.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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