Progressives lose defense bill battle to expand military abortions but win on many 'woke' priorities

·4 min read

Progressive Democrats were sidelined Wednesday in their bid to expand abortion within the military, but Republicans say Congress and the White House are nevertheless successfully prioritizing "woke ideology" over national security.

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus moved aggressively in recent days to insert partisan priorities, including abortion, into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The must-pass bill sets military policy and spending levels for the Pentagon and other agencies in the country’s national defense infrastructure.

"I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until our federal budget is equitably distributed," said Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat. "More guns and tanks are of no use to Americans without housing, education or health care."

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Not everyone agreed, including the majority of Democrats.

An amendment to allow abortions to be conducted on military bases was blocked from getting a vote on the floor by the House Rules Committee, a panel closely controlled by the Democratic leadership. Similarly, an amendment that would allow the Pentagon to use tax dollars to fund abortions was also tabled.

"This needs to be bipartisan," House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said in explaining the decisions.

Progressives, likewise, will likely fail to achieve their long-held goal of cutting defense spending. While two amendments, which would keep defense spending flat at $778 billion or cut it by $100 billion, have been scheduled for a vote, few expect them to pass.

The House instead is poised to advance a bill that guarantees nearly $840 billion for the Defense Department — $30 billion more than even the White House initially proposed. Senior Democrats said the boost was required to compensate for rising fuel prices and inflation, as well as the military and economic fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine fundamentally altered what our national security posture and what our defense posture needs to be," said House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat. "It made it more complicated, and it made it more expensive."

Republicans were quick to argue, however, that just because progressives failed to secure wins in the bill does not mean it’s a good deal overall. Many excoriated the bill for indulging "woke" ideology, specifically pertaining to climate change and gender.

The NDAA prioritizes the military transition away from fossil fuels to electric vehicles and earmarks money for NATO allies to bolster "climate resilience." It also creates a gender advisory task force within the Pentagon to boost military recruitment among women. And the bill allows the Defense Department's health plan for service members to cover emergency drugs, including medications to induce abortion.

Conservatives also note that the $840 billion legislation is crammed with handouts to special interests and other questionable uses of taxpayer money. The bill directs the Defense Department to create a pilot program to research and develop plant-based proteins and other alternatives to meat and poultry.

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Furthermore, the bill creates a special grant program to train foreign militaries on how to recruit women and combat sexual harassment, while allowing the Pentagon to pick up the tab for foreign officers to attend training and conferences on the topic.

Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican and leading figure within the House Freedom Caucus, complained that the bill did not take measures to prohibit enforcement of President Biden's vaccine mandate for troops. The mandate's implementation has been blocked in the private sector by the Supreme Court.

At least 40,000 unvaccinated troops from the Army National Guard alone have been barred from taking part in federally funded exercise maneuvers and drills because of the mandate.

"This mandate is putting our national security at risk for no reason," said Rep. Pete Stauber, a Minnesota Republican.

While Roy and other members of the conservative Freedom Caucus plan to oppose the bill, most GOP lawmakers will vote for passage. Many are doing so in order to advance the bill into a conference committee where deal makers have to reconcile the House version with one previously approved by the Senate.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said that process would see partisan priorities stripped out for the NDAA to secure 10 Senate Republicans needed for passage in the Senate.

"Like previous years, we'll work through those in the conference and weed out the ones that don't need to come back," he said.