WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed 350-80 the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act after making several concessions to the Senate, which did not pass its own version of the bill for the second straight year in a row.
The $858 billion NDAA amounts to an 8% increase over FY22 defense levels and is $45 billion more than the White House requested in its budget proposal last spring. It also provides increased aid to Taiwan and Ukraine. The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation next week.
The compromise bill with the Senate drops various House provisions that would have complicated arms transfers to some countries and irregular forces over human rights concerns. House lawmakers had previously attached those provisions as amendments when they passed their version of the NDAA in a 329-101 vote in July.
Additionally, the final bill blocks the Biden administration’s efforts to retire certain weapons systems and discontinue a couple of nuclear weapons platforms.
Securing Taiwan and Ukraine
Despite some of the House concessions, Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and the panel’s top Republican, Mike Rogers of Alabama, both praised the bipartisan comprise bill as necessary to deter Russia in Europe and China in the Indo-Pacific region.
“This is a great product,” Rogers said Wednesday. “It’s helpful in Eastern Europe, but it is imperative as we move toward our concerns with China and [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s area of responsibility] that we pass this bill.”
The bill authorizes $10 billion in military aid for Taiwan through FY27 and includes measures intended to help address the multibillion-dollar backlog of U.S. foreign military sales for the island nation. Congressional appropriators have yet to strike a deal on how to pay for the authorization, with some expressing concern that the high dollar amount authorized for Taiwan security aid could eat into the U.S. State Department’s $56 billion budget.
Meanwhile, Smith noted Wednesday that the bill provides $800 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative “to help them defend against Russia’s war of aggression.”
That fund allows the Pentagon to contract for new weapons and equipment for Ukraine beyond the billions of dollars in weapons that President Joe Biden has already transferred to Kyiv using presidential drawdown authority. The modified language this year now allows portions of the fund to go toward replenishing equipment for allies and partners that have sent weapons to Ukraine.
While the initial House bill included language from retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., that would have authorized $100 million to train Ukrainian pilots to fly U.S. aircraft, that provision was folded into the scaled-up Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding. Both the Biden administration and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., have previously expressed skepticism over that provision.
The bill also requires the Biden administration to submit a plan for short- and mid-term Ukraine security aid, which must address the Ukrainian Air Force’s needs.
“We expect this report will cover Ukraine’s aerial capability needs over that duration and the plan to build and improve upon such capacities,” according to the report accompanying the bill.
In addition, the bill requires a report on the framework the inspectors general use to oversee Ukraine aid amid growing skepticism from the right flank of the Republican caucus.
“We have the [Defense Department] report before us regularly in a classified setting to tell us about this,” Rogers said Wednesday, expressing frustration over claims within his party that Ukraine aid is not subject to enough oversight.
“There is no evidence that the money we’ve given, the supplies we’ve given, aren’t going where they’re supposed to go,” he added. “It’s my hope that we can figure out how to give more information that’s accurate to the public rather than just the classified stuff we deal with. That would be helpful.”
Negotiators on the House Armed Services Committee agreed to drop a provision from Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., that would have banned arms sales and transfers to any government that has committed genocide or violations of international humanitarian law.
Another dropped provision from Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., would have limited future offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the country stops targeting dissidents at home and abroad.
Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Chris Pappas, D-N.H., also lost their provision that would have complicated Turkey’s efforts to make a $6 billion purchase of 40 Lockheed Martin Block 70 F-16 fighter jets. That provision would have required 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.
Outgoing Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., also lost out on his provision that would have prevented the transfer of two Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates to Egypt unless Biden certifies the country is in compliance with a 2017 Russia sanctions law and is not wrongfully detaining U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
The final bill also dropped a House provision that would have codified into law U.S. funding and support for irregular forces under the NDAA’s Section 1202, while banning that assistance 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 advanced competitors such as Russia and China. House lawmakers had hoped that codifying those authorities into law would have helped expand those operations into the Indo-Pacific.
Retirements and divestments
Amid concerns over China’s naval modernization efforts, the final bill maintains a requirement for the U.S. Navy to maintain 31 operational amphibious ships despite opposition from the White House.
The White House also issued a statement in July noting that it “strongly opposes” the bill funding a third Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The final bill nonetheless allocates $2.2 billion to fund the third Arleigh Burke ship.
Additionally, the bill sets aside $25 million to continue the sea-launched cruise missile nuclear development program, also known as SLCM-N, despite the Biden administration’s attempts to cancel it. It also prevents the administration from proceeding with a plan to retire the B83 megaton gravity bomb, which is 80 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II.
However, the bill does allow the Air Force to begin retiring the A-10 Warthog after previous congressional opposition to doing so.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.