Defense bill has bipartisan support in Georgia, but it remains stalled

Lockheed Martin builds the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at its plant in Cobb County. AJC file photo.

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Lockheed Martin builds the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at its plant in Cobb County. AJC file photo.

WASHINGTON — Amid all the dysfunction in Washington, Congress has managed to pass a bill outlining the policies and funding for national defense every year since 1961.

This year’s discussions about the National Defense Authorization Act have stalled in the Senate as Democrats and Republicans disagree over which amendments to bring up for a vote. And now members are looking at alternative ways to pass the legislation and keep the streak alive.

Despite the procedural disagreements, this year’s bill is largely noncontroversial and, like in past years, would direct millions in funding to military installations across Georgia and posts across the world.

“If there’s anything we have to do, we have to ensure the national defense,” Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said. “We live in a dangerous neighborhood, and it’s complex. And it’s being made even more complicated by technology.”

Last year’s bill drew attention when lawmakers supported language that would lead to renaming military installations named after Confederate leaders, drawing objections from then-President Donald Trump.

The biggest policy shift in this year’s measure would require young women to join young men in registering for the military draft when they turn 18. Proponents say it is a sign of gender equality and would broaden the number of available draftees if the United States ever needed to scale up its military.

The draft was last used in 1973, during the Vietnam War, despite the country engaging in multiple wars and conflicts since then. Instead, the recruitment of volunteer enlistees has rounded out the military. Still, the draft remains as a contingency plan.

The change was added to the bill prior to its passage in the U.S. House in September, based on an amendment sponsored by Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat, and Florida U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, a Republican. The House Armed Services Committee voted 35-24 to enact the change, led by Democrats and a handful of Republicans on the panel.

The language is also contained in the Senate version of the bill. A congressional panel issued a report in March 2020 recommending the change.

“Equity is important,” Houlahan told CQ Roll Call after the committee vote, “and women have constantly had to fight for a level playing field — and this change is a step in the right direction.”

While the proposal has bipartisan backing in Congress, the pollster Ipsos reported this year that the public’s support for drafting women into the military has decreased in recent years. Forty-five percent of Americans now favor the plan, compared with 63% four years ago.

Georgia U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, highlighted some of the bill’s provisions in a news release.

The bill that the House passed includes a 2.7% pay raise for troops, plus an overall increase in the defense budget of $23.9 billion. There is also money to support initiatives in Iraq and Syria.

In Georgia, the bill includes $300 million for new construction projects and funding for various cybersecurity programs, including an instruction facility at Fort Gordon. Warnock and his counterpart, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, worked to include a $100 million barracks project at Fort Stewart. Some of the bill’s money would also be earmarked for the state’s historically Black colleges and universities.

Georgia’s delegation has also asked for assurances that any projects phased out at bases in the state would be replaced with new projects that supplement lost funding.

“While this certainly isn’t a perfect bill, I believe we were able to accomplish many goals in this year’s NDAA important to Georgia, Georgia’s Eighth District, and the nation,” Scott, a Tifton Republican, said in a statement after a committee vote on the legislation.

Senate progress on the bill stalled last week after Republicans complained that Senate Leader Chuck Schumer was blocking votes on amendments.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wanted to attach language mirroring a bill that already passed in the Senate but stalled in the House. That legislation would ban U.S. imports from China’s Xinjiang region in protest of forced labor imposed upon people in the Uyghur region.

With no agreement to bring his amendment to the floor, Rubio refused to allow the larger bill to proceed. Democrats expressed frustration as the Senate adjourned for the week with no movement on the bill.

With the Senate unable to clear the procedural hurdles necessary to approve its own version of the bill, some media organizations are now reporting that instead House and Senate leaders will negotiate directly on a compromise measure that would be approved by each chamber in the coming weeks.

ExploreOPINION: Warnock looks to make his mark on first Defense bill