Senate kicks off consideration of defense bill

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Greg Nash
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) heads to a press conference following the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act on Thursday, June 1, 2023.

The Senate kicked off consideration of the annual national defense policy package Tuesday as Democrats in the upper chamber look to beat back a House GOP-led effort to include provisions related to abortion and diversity.

The Senate voted 72-25 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed, the first procedural vote on its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes a top-line figure of $886 billion and is expected to include a 5 percent pay raise for troops. The proposal also is unlikely to include many of the hot-button items that House Republicans included in the legislation that passed the lower chamber largely along party lines. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he is pleased with the legislation’s progress and was especially pleased that both sides have kept poison pill provisions out of the bill in a push to win a robust bipartisan vote. He also argued that the NDAA effort should be a “prime example” of how senators on both sides can “work constructively” to help the nation’s defense capabilities. 

“I certainly hope we do not see the kind of controversy that severely hindered the NDAA process over in the House,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Both sides should defeat potentially toxic amendments and refrain from delaying the NDAA’s passage. So far, we have thankfully avoided all of that.”

The Democratic leader noted that senators and their staffs worked throughout the weekend to wrap up the first manager’s package that includes 21 GOP and Democratic amendments each, and an additional nine bipartisan amendments. 

He added that both sides are also starting work on a second manager’s package. 

The Democratic leader also name checked a couple of amendments he is most pleased will be included in the Senate package, including on artificial intelligence, China’s role in the U.S.’s fentanyl crisis and American competition with China. 

The traditionally bipartisan legislation passed the House last week 219-210 with only four members of each party breaking rank. Democrats panned amendments including those to block the Pentagon’s new policy that covers travel costs for military members who seek abortions, military diversity programs and surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender troops. 

After the Senate passes its bill, members of both chambers will try to reach a compromise package that is expected to be tilted in the Senate’s direction in order to win the required 60 votes to win passage. 

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