Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Sept. 28, 2021, in Washington.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Sept. 28, 2021, in Washington. AP / Patrick Semansky

The Defense Policy Bill Is Late Again. This Year, the GOP Is Blaming Democrats

Four of the past 10 NDAAs passed the Senate in November or December.

Senate Republicans are trying to use Democrats’ support for the president’s Build Back Better Act against them, alleging that their work on the tax-and-social safety net plan constitutes neglect of the military. 

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass bill that has languished in the Senate while Democrats have held votes on other priorities, is typically considered and approved on a bipartisan basis. But this year, the annual legislation is becoming a political talking point for Republicans, who argue the Democrats and President Joe Biden are shirking their duty to defend the nation. 

“Democrats in Washington have been so preoccupied with passing their reckless tax-and-spending spree that they have overlooked and ignored some of the basic responsibilities of governing,” Sen. John Thune, R-N.D., said at a press conference on Tuesday. “China is testing supersonic missiles and we are here in Washington talking about things like so-called tree equity. It is an incredible lack of responsibility.” 

The House passed its version of the NDAA in September. While the Senate Armed Services Committee finalized its version of the bill in July by a vote of 23-3, the full Senate has yet to take it up. 

The NDAA is an authorization bill that sets the military’s priorities for the upcoming year, including a pay raise for troops, dozens of new reports to Congress and changes to how the military justice system handles sexual assault, so those initiatives would not start unless the bill is passed. 

The bill is not an appropriations bill, but the legislation to fund the Pentagon is also late. Ever since fiscal 2022 began on Oct. 1, the Pentagon has been running on a continuing resolution that holds funding at 2021 levels and forbids new programs to start.

Republicans blamed Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader of the Senate who sets the floor schedule, saying that he has provided no answers for why he hasn’t brought up the bill, which has passed every year for the past six decades.

“This has gotten dangerous, that we are not able to see the NDAA come to the floor,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said. “We are running out of time.”  

But the Senate has passed the bill in November or later in four of the last 10 years, suggesting the late consideration is not a drastic departure from the norm. Since 2011, the Senate bill has passed once in April, once in May, three times in June, once in September, twice in November and twice in December—once as late as Dec. 12. Six of those late bills were passed when the Senate was under Democratic control, four under GOP control.

Even though they slammed Schumer and Biden, Republicans were quick to praise Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for working in a bipartisan manner and pushing to bring the bill to the floor. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the committee, said that Reed has told him that he’s asked Schumer about getting a vote “daily” but has not made progress.

Reed’s office did not return a request for comment. 

The bill covers the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, but rarely is passed before then. The bill typically passes near the end of the calendar year. Of the past 10 annual bills, six have become law in December, two in January and one in November. The lone bill passed before its fiscal year began was the 2019 bill, which Trump signed in August. 

After the bill passes each chamber, top lawmakers from both parties negotiate to merge legislation from the House and Senate and iron out a compromise version that lawmakers must vote on again before it goes to the president for a signature. 

Those negotiations can sometimes take months. In 2014, the Senate passed the bill in April, but it didn’t become law until December. 

Inhofe said that by delaying consideration of the bill in the Senate, Schumer is shutting lawmakers out of the process, since a faster floor process typically means few or no amendments can be offered by senators who do not serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Other Republicans complained that the military had received lower priority than fighting climate change, nominating a team to serve the federal government, and requiring COVID-19 vaccines for troops and contractors working with the Defense Department.

“We build the hypersonic missile in Alabama….We have 5,000 defense contractors. And what are they having to do? They’re having to fight a vaccine mandate,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ark., said. “We better wake up and smell the hypersonic missiles.”