Opinion: Who says bipartisanship is dead? It isn’t on defense

The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The National Defense Authorization Act is one of the few bills Congress passes without fail each year. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The National Defense Authorization Act is one of the few bills Congress passes without fail each year. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Critics of Congress often argue it has become too partisan of an institution and suffers from legislative dysfunction on all sorts of critical issues.

That may be true, but the two parties demonstrated again this week that they can come together on the nation’s defense, with big majorities voting in favor of a $768 billion Pentagon policy bill for 2022. It’s a bill that has been approved every year without fail since 1960.

“The annual defense bill has once again shown that when it comes to our national security and the well-being of our military families, we can work across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions to the challenges we face,” said U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany.

It is hard to imagine any $768 billion bill which could get such overwhelming support, drawing opposition mainly from more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta were two of the Georgia lawmakers who opposed the Pentagon package, joining liberals who did not like the $25 billion boost over President Biden’s original defense request.

But it wasn’t only Democrats voting ‘No.’ Staunch GOP conservatives from the state, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, also voted against a higher defense budget, a pay raise for the troops, and more.

Greene complained the defense bill was ‘more concerned with funding a Green New Deal compliant military’ than it was in dealing with China and Russia.

In many ways, the defense policy bill has morphed into a Pentagon pork barrel measure, as lawmakers hail the money authorized for local military installations in their districts, happily rattling off the successes in their press releases.

“I’m pleased to see Congress come together to support the men and women who courageously serve in uniform,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans, who noted ‘vital funding’ — over $72 million — for the U.S. Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon.

In the recent debate over a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, many Republicans like Allen belittled money that Democrats set aside for work on the nation’s electrical grid and green energy projects, arguing it was not real infrastructure.

But the defense bill includes plans for power generation and electrical grid projects at three Georgia military installations — giving the green light to $59 million in renewable energy infrastructure efforts at Fort Stewart, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, and Fort Benning.

Last year, the defense bill was approved only when both parties joined to override a Donald Trump veto.

No matter what else has gone on in 2021, bipartisanship on defense continues on Capitol Hill, where too often nothing gets done on major issues.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com