Senate begins voting on defense policy bill

By Tony Bertuca / July 19, 2023 at 4:14 PM

The Senate has begun voting on its version of the annual defense authorization bill, beginning today with the consideration of various amendments.

The bill, among a host of other things, authorizes $886 billion in defense spending and a 5.2% military pay increase. The measure isn't a spending bill, however, and doesn't actually allocate funding, which still requires the passage of a separate appropriations bill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) said on the chamber floor that the bill also authorizes resources for military modernization programs and cutting-edge technologies.

He noted the bill was advanced out of committee by a vote of 24-1, the most bipartisan margin in years.

The Senate, Reed said, will consider 51 amendments to the bill -- 21 Democratic, 21 Republican and nine bipartisan.

Among the first amendments being considered is one from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) that requires congressional approval if a U.S. president wants to withdraw from NATO.

Another amendment offered by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) would clarify the term “aggregate value” as it relates to presidential “drawdown” authority following a $6 billion Pentagon accounting error in aid provided to Ukraine.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said during a GOP leadership press conference today that he believed the bill would pass with bipartisan support, though the voting would likely be stretched into next week.

“I would think at the end of the process the [bill] would pass on a pretty strong bipartisan basis,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a press conference today that the process is playing out smoothly thus far.

“The bottom line is that we want to get this done without amendments that don't undo the bill, are dilatory in any way and so far our Republican colleagues are cooperating,” he said.

The House passed its version of the bill in a tight vote last week and included several politically controversial measures backed by conservative Republicans taking aim at Pentagon policies related to diversity initiatives, abortion and climate change. The bill advanced out of committee by a vote of 58-1 but only four Democrats ended up supporting the amended version when it came to the House floor.

The Democrat-led Senate’s bill is expected to forgo the House’s politically charged provisions -- though some will receive floor votes -- and many lawmakers say they will be stripped out of the final product when the legislation goes into conference committee negotiations.