House passes $858 billion defense bill, repeals military vaccine mandate

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an $858 billion defense policy bill on Thursday that would have repealed the Pentagon’s mandate to require the military to vaccinate against the coronavirus, overturning opposition from the Biden administration as bipartisan Lawmakers unanimously support another big increase in military spending.

The legislation, negotiated by Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress, would allow military personnel a 4.6 percent pay rise and would boost the Pentagon budget by $45 billion over President Joe Biden’s request, providing $800 million in new security for Ukraine. aid, providing billions of dollars in new security aid to Taiwan. It also included lawmakers seeking to change the military’s policy on handling sexual assault cases, a major victory long eluded by its supporters.

The vote was 350 to 80, with a significant number of Republicans joining the ranks of Democrats.

The bill presents a double negative for Mr. Biden’s policies, which have increased the overall defense budget by 8% amid his pressure to keep the defense budget nearly flat, have begun to roll back vaccine mandates that his top officials have worked hard to preserve. With Republicans taking control of the House in January, the House has largely locked in on President Trump’s proposal for a big military budget increase. Biden and many Democrats had hoped it would end with them in unified control of the government.

National Security Council spokesman John F. Kirby called the repeal of the military vaccination requirement a “mistake” and accused Republicans of politicizing the bill. But he didn’t say sir. Biden would veto it.

“Ensuring that our military is ready to defend this country and ready to do so remains the president’s top priority, and the vaccine requirement against Covid does just that,” Mr. Kirby said. “But Republicans in Congress have clearly decided they would rather fight the health and well-being of these troops than protect them.”

Democrats have privately said they have no choice but to veto the bill if Republicans, especially Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is running for Speaker, have threatened to veto it the bill. Republican votes are needed to pass it, as antiwar Democrats on the left often oppose such measures.

The bill must also pass the closely-matched Senate, which needs the support of at least 10 Republicans to widen the 60-vote threshold to move forward with major legislation.

Some Democrats on the Armed Services Committee believe it would be prudent to roll back the policy. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, who chairs the panel, said it was “absolutely the right policy” for the Pentagon to enact the mission in 2021 and that Defense Department officials were right to execute it.

“But if we’re here now, December 2022, August 2021, does the policy still make sense? Is it still the right policy? We don’t believe it is.”

gentlemen. Smith noted that service members who received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in early 2021 — which now offers them little or no protection against the new variant — can continue to serve under current rules.

Republicans emphasized the provision as a victory but said they intend to push the issue further when they take control of the House of Representatives in January, looking for ways to reinstate or pay back pay to service members who have been fired for refusing vaccinations.

“Make no mistake: this is a victory for our military,” Mr Bush said. McCarthy said in a statement, adding that when his party takes over, “the real work begins; the new House Republican majority will work to finally hold the Biden administration accountable and assist this administration injustice.” The men and women of the military that are being targeted.”

Service members must be vaccinated against various viruses. From basic training, recruits receive vaccinations against hepatitis A and B; influenza; measles, mumps and rubella; meningococcal disease; polio; tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis; In addition to Covid-19, there is also chickenpox, according to the Defense Health Service.

Across the armed forces, the vast majority of service members have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, and almost all are at least partially vaccinated. But thousands of soldiers have been fired for refusing to be vaccinated.

The legislation reflects lawmakers’ growing determination to increase military spending in response to Russia’s ongoing attacks on Ukraine and heightened concerns about Chinese aggression against Taiwan. It will increase funding for Ukraine security initiatives. Biden has called for a defense modernization plan for Taiwan, authorizing up to $10 billion in security assistance over the next five years.

It would approve more than $2.7 billion to support munitions production, allaying concerns that the U.S. is depleting the country’s stockpile as it tries to meet Ukraine’s demand for weapons.

The bill builds on reforms to the military justice system passed last year, removing command powers from commanding officers over the prosecution of sexual assault cases and delegating those powers to independent prosecutors. Last year’s defense policy bill stripped military commanders of much of their power to prosecute sexual assault and countless other criminal cases, but allowed them to retain key decision-making powers.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who has long supported the measure, said service members “now have a justice system worth their sacrifice.” “We now have an independent, transparent and accountable judicial system.”

The legislation also includes a provision from Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Majority Leader John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would block federal access to semiconductors and products made by Chinese companies. services, including chipmaker Yangtze Memory.

Lawmakers agreed, with bipartisan support, to add a measure that would shield the public from personal information about federal judges and their families, including identifying information such as Social Security and license plate numbers, addresses, schools and places of work. The legislation gained momentum after Judge Esther Salas’ son was shot and killed in her New Brunswick, N.J., home by a lawyer who came looking for her and shot and killed her son. husband.

Several provisions that lawmakers want attached to the must-pass bill have been left out, including legislation that would allow marijuana companies access to banking institutions; a measure backed by Sen. easier access to natural gas pipelines; and an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act.

john ismay Contribution report.

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