Defense Bill Drama: GOP Tags Along Anti-Abortion Rider, Dems Rebel!

Another year, another astronomical defense budget. This time it’s a whopping $886 billion – that’s a $28 billion hike from last year, pushing us even closer to a trillion-dollar annual defense budget. Is it just me, or does that number make anyone else dizzy?

But, wait! This year’s drama didn’t stop at the bill’s stratospheric cost. The bill didn’t coast through Congress with the usual bipartisan support. Wondering why? Let’s just say, the GOP decided to tag along a party favor – an anti-abortion rider that threw a major wrench into the traditional passage of this so-called “must-pass” bill.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), typically greeted with a flood of ‘yes’ votes from both parties, managed to scrape through by a hair’s breadth this time – 219 to 210. Last two years? Over 300 ‘yes’ votes each time. So, what’s the big difference this year?

Say hello to the anti-abortion amendment introduced by Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), which essentially puts a lid on the Secretary of Defense’s ability to fund services related to abortion. A slap in the face for Biden’s efforts to safeguard abortion seekers, including those in the military.

And, it didn’t stop there. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Montana) brought in an amendment to put a ban on military health insurance and the Pentagon from covering gender-affirming care or surgeries for transgender people. As if that wasn’t enough, the GOP threw in provisions targeting diversity and climate initiatives. Talk about a party crashing!

We all know progressives have a track record of opposing the defense bill, arguing about the nonsensical support for human rights abuses and militarization while budgets for education, health, labor, and more, are left to rot. Yet, Democrats have traditionally been quite supportive of the bill, with a select few like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) always rooting for a ‘no.’

However, this year’s Republican amendments appear to have crossed the line for many right-leaning Democrats, leaving only four notoriously conservative Democrats to vote ‘yes,’ with the rest of the caucus turning their backs.

One anonymous Democrat told CNN, “Republicans are making the NDAA a culture war bill, but at the same time I’ve always voted for pay raises so this is a challenge.” I can’t help but wonder if this Democrat is more upset with the GOP’s ‘culture war’ than with the actual wars we’re funding both domestically and internationally.

Sure, these amendments will harm the most marginalized groups, who are already under severe attack. But isn’t it equally concerning the same Democrats are eager to support such inflated defense spending?

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) criticized the GOP’s actions, saying, “It is woefully irresponsible that extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security, and taken it over and weaponized it to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.”

It’s not just a numbers game. It’s about how those numbers shape our society, our values, and ultimately, our future. So let’s talk about it, challenge it, and hopefully, change it.