House G.O.P. Pushes Through Defense Bill Nixing Abortion Access Policy


House Republicans banded together on Friday to narrowly pass an $895 billion defense policy bill that would restrict access to abortion and transgender medical care in the military and eliminate all positions and offices of diversity, equity and inclusion across the Pentagon.

The 217-to-199 vote, largely along party lines, reflected a dramatic shift in support for the annual National Defense Authorization Act, normally an overwhelmingly popular bill, since it emerged from a House committee last month with broad bipartisan support. Democrats turned against the bill in droves after Republicans insisted for the second year in a row on loading it with conservative policy dictates.

The legislation would provide a 19.5 percent pay increase for the troops, as well as an array of quality-of-life improvements including more generous housing and food allowances for military families and improvements for military housing facilities. It would also cut the number of F-35 fighter aircraft the Pentagon could buy over the next year from 68 to 58, after years of frustrations among lawmakers with production delays from the manufacturer. And it would increase funding for drone programs and development of artificial intelligence technology as part of a strategy to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

The near-unanimous support among Republicans was a relief for Speaker Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, who bowed to pressure from his right flank and allowed his members to attach a raft of provisions that play on culture war issues important to the party’s conservative base. Ultraconservative Republicans had threatened to block the measure if they did not receive votes on their priorities, but the result was a series of tough votes for more mainstream G.O.P. lawmakers.

One such proposal, offered by Representative Beth Van Duyne of Texas and approved on Thursday, would overturn the Pentagon’s policy offering time off and transportation reimbursement to service members traveling out of state to obtain an abortion.

The Defense Department created the policy after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the precedent that enshrined abortion rights nationwide, which prompted a rush by some states to enact bans and curbs on the procedure. That left Americans, including military personnel — who are housed at bases throughout the country, sometimes with little control over where — with unequal access to abortion.

“This human rights abuse should not be paid for or encouraged by the U.S. government,” Ms. Van Duyne said on Thursday.

Democrats called the measure unacceptable and pointed to previous failed attempts by House and Senate Republicans to overturn the Pentagon’s policy. Representative Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat of Pennsylvania and an Air Force veteran, was particularly outraged by the last-minute inclusion of the measure.

“I’m sick and tired of members who have never served telling service members — the same service members that they are proud to publicly express their purported support for — that they don’t deserve the financial or otherwise freedom to seek the medical care that they and their family members deserve and need when they need it,” she said on Thursday.

Along with the abortion policy amendment, House Republicans introduced and passed a wave of amendments that would ban drag shows on military bases, eliminate and ban any diversity, equity and inclusion programs or positions within the Defense Department, and prohibit the uniformed services health care program from covering related medical care for transgender people.

The inclusion of the hard-right policy riders in the House all but guarantee a fight over the defense measure that could delay its enactment, as was the case last year. The Democratic-led Senate, which typically produces a bipartisan bill, is all but certain to leave the measures out, and they are unlikely to survive a conference between the two chambers to reconcile competing versions of the legislation. Even if they could survive, President Biden would be highly unlikely to sign them into law.

For more than six decades, Congress has succeeded in passing the military bill, which gives lawmakers in both parties a chance to showcase their support for national security and project military strength on the world stage.

As the bill emerged from committee, Republicans and Democrats both praised it, pointing in particular to the quality of life improvements for the troops.

During site visits to military barracks last year, federal regulators said that some housing conditions for service members posed health and safety risks, with one report finding sewage overflow in shared bathrooms along with multiple reports of mold. The bill would provide more than $800 million toward making improvements to some of those housing facilities.

“No service member should have to live in squalid conditions,” said Representative Mike D. Rogers, Republican of Alabama and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.



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