WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed the $840 billion National Defense Authorization Act 329-101 after attaching hundreds of amendments, including ones restricting new arms transfers.
The legislation includes an approximately 7% increase over this year’s spending levels as well as a pair of amendments that curtail U.S. support and weapons transfers to states and militias implicated in human rights atrocities. And specific restrictions in the bill could complicate future U.S. arms sales and transfers to various U.S. allies and security partners, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
House Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern, D-Mass., added an amendment that would ban arms sales and transfers to any government that has committed genocide or violations of international humanitarian law.
And Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., successfully included an amendment that would prohibit U.S. funding and support for irregular forces under Section 1202 authorities if those groups have committed gross human rights violations.
First established in 2018 in response to Moscow’s support for Ukrainian separatists, Section 1202 authorities allow special operations units to arm irregular forces in gray zone conflict areas with the goal of deterring near-peer competitors such as Russia and China. The House defense authorization would codify these authorities into law with an eye on arming irregular forces in Asia and increase the Section 1202 budget for fiscal 2023 to $25 million, up from $15 million in FY22.
“There are a lot of 1202 programs that are in Europe, but very few in Indo-[Pacific Command],” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who oversees the House’s special operations panel, told Defense News last month. “The 1202 program could be a force multiplier that is really important to create deterrence, and that’s why we put it in there to make sure we have opportunities to expand.”
The House also voted 244-179 to add an amendment that could complicate Turkey’s plans to purchase $6 billion worth of 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and approximately 80 modernization kits from Lockheed Martin to upgrade its existing fleet.
The amendment, introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Chris Pappas, D-N.H., would require President Joe Biden to submit “a detailed description of concrete steps” to ensure that Turkey does not use the F-16s to violate Greek airspace before proceeding with the sale. Biden voiced support for the sale at the NATO summit in Madrid last month after Ankara dropped its opposition to Swedish and Finnish accession to the alliance.
The president is on a separate trip this week to the Middle East, where he is scheduled to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. While there are no expected weapons announcements, a separate amendment to the House defense authorization bill from Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., would limit future offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia until Riyadh stops targeting dissidents at home and abroad.
Another amendment attached to the bill by Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., would prevent the transfer of two Oliver Hazard Perry Class guided-missile frigates to Egypt unless Biden certifies Cairo is in compliance with a 2017 Russia sanctions law and is not wrongfully detaining U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
The amendments restricting arms transfers represent only a tiny fraction of the record 650 amendments the House considered on the floor for the defense authorization legislation, which Congress has passed every year since 1961.
Though the House passed the vast majority of those 650 amendments, it voted down 78-350 an amendment from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to trim $100 billion from the defense budget. Lee also lost a vote 151-277 on another proposed amendment to undo the authorization’s $37 billion topline increase over the Biden administration’s defense budget proposal.
Centrist Democrats Elaine Luria of Virginia and Jared Golden of Maine introduced the $37 billion topline increase as an amendment when the Armed Services Committee voted to advance the bill 57-1 last month. That amendment also thwarted the Navy’s plan to retire nine littoral combat ships due to breakdowns among the fleet and an annual $59 million maintenance cost.
Under the current authorization bill, the Navy can only retire four littoral combat ships. Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., sought to add an amendment that would allow the Navy to proceed with retiring all nine of those ships, but failed narrowly in a 208-221 vote.
Virginia’s Robb Wittman, the top Republican on the House’s sea power panel, successfully added his own amendment requiring the Navy to transfer any retired littoral combat ships to a U.S. ally or security partner. Taiwan has expressed interest in purchasing the littoral combat ships the Navy plans to retire.
An amendment added by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, would authorize an additional $354 million for the Navy to purchase three more F-35C fighter jets.
The bill also authorizes the purchase of eight new battle force ships (including two Virginia-class submarines and three guided-missile destroyers), provides full funding for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and the B-21A bomber program, grants money for 44 Abrams tank upgrades and 102 Stryker Vehicle upgrades, and funds the purchase of 61 F-35A, B & C Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
The House adopted another amendment from Smith that would create a revolving critical munitions acquisition fund for Ukraine of up to $500 million per fiscal year.
Nonetheless, it remains unclear how many of these provisions will become law in the final defense authorization. The Senate does not plan to vote on its version of the authorization legislation until September at the earliest, and both chambers will have to reconcile their competing bills in conference as lawmakers campaign to keep their seats in an especially high-stakes midterm election year.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered the intersection of U.S. foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He previously wrote for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.