Here’s what’s in the mammoth $883.7B Defense bill the House passed

Here’s what’s in the mammoth $883.7B Defense bill the House passed

The House has advanced its mammoth $883.7 billion Defense policy bill for fiscal 2025, legislation comprising a number of controversial measures, including the rehiring of troops kicked out for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine and one giving state governors veto power over a Space Force transfer.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was approved Wednesday night by the House Armed Services Committee in a 57-1 vote after more than 700 amendments were negotiated over roughly 12 hours. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) was the lone vote against the legislation.

Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said the bill “will help revitalize the defense industrial base and build the ready, capable, and lethal fighting force we need to deter China and our other adversaries.”

The bill sticks to spending caps as stipulated in last year’s debt ceiling agreement, with just a 1 percent increase over the fiscal 2024 NDAA. But the House legislation shifts around billions of dollars proposed by the Pentagon, adding funding to submarines, cutting dollars for fighter jets, and delaying the retirement of dozens of aircraft.

Also included were widely supported quality of life initiatives for service members, such as a roughly 20 percent pay boost for junior enlisted troops and increases to troops’ housing allowances.

The daylong markup ended unusually early, shortly after 10 p.m. EDT, with few culture war battles, a change in tone from years past when partisan debates often extended the process until past midnight.

But this year’s bill wasn’t without contentious measures.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the legislation: what made it in, what didn’t, and what will likely be key policy fights down the line.

Space National Guard standoff

One of the most noteworthy amendments of the day was a measure that reserves the right of state governors to approve the transfer of their Air National Guard units to the Space Force.

The Biden administration proposed moving Air National Guard service members into the relatively new Space Force, a request that has been opposed by all 50 state governors and numerous House and Senate lawmakers.

The effort has been controversial because moving Air National Guard members to the Space Force would make them part of the active-duty military, a plan detractors say would undermine the nation’s National Guard system.

But a measure submitted by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) seeks to water down the Air Force’s plan by requiring governors’ approval of any guard transfers, as well as require annual reports to Congress on how such transfers affect the Space Force’s and Air National Guard’s capabilities.

The measure was approved by voice vote as part of a package of bipartisan amendments.

COVID-19 callback

The House Armed Services Committee also on Wednesday adopted an NDAA amendment that would require the Pentagon to rehire U.S. service members who were fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Offered by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), the measure was adopted by voice vote.

Mace said the amendment would correct the wrongful firing of 8,400 service members who wouldn’t take the vaccine when it was briefly made mandatory for the U.S. military in 2021 and 2022, before language in the fiscal 2023 NDAA forced the Pentagon to rescind it.

“The Department has so far failed to recruit a significant number of service members separated under the COVID mandate. This is unacceptable,” she said. “These individuals possess valuable skills, and many already have training that our military desperately needs.”

It’s unclear, however, whether the measure will make it into the final NDAA, as the GOP-led House committee will meet with the Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee to reconcile differences in the bill before full passage in Congress.

If it ain’t broke …

Lawmakers are clinging on to several legacy systems in the U.S. military, not ready to see the several fighter jets and bombs get sent to the boneyard.

Included in the House NDAA is language that would block an Air Force effort to retire 32 F-22A Raptors through fiscal 2027, aircraft that the service said would be far too expensive to keep ready for combat.

Also being saved from the chopping block are 26 F-15E Strike Eagles, which the Air Force hopes to retire due to less-capable engines and had planned to stop buying after fiscal 2025.

And the bill steps in to prevent the retirement of the B83 fireball, a nuclear gravity bomb with the ability to vaporize everything within a radius of more than 2 miles — at least 80 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

But the committee’s bill allows the Air Force to cut 56 A-10 Warthogs — low flying support aircraft that have long been saved due to its usefulness for troops in Afghanistan. The planes have recently been made obsolete with the U.S. withdrawal from the country.

Also targeted in the bill was the Pentagon’s troubled and costly Joint Strike Fighter program, with lawmakers opting to cut 10 of the 68 F-35 fighter jets the Pentagon requested, about $1 billion in savings that would feed back into the program to fix long-held issues.

Quality of life fixes

This year’s House NDAA draft took aim at several military quality of life issues, an undertaking stemming from a 15-month review on how to give troops and their family members better care.

“No service members should have to live in squalid conditions. No military family should have to rely on food stamps to feed their children. And no one serving this country should have to wait weeks to see a doctor or mental health specialist,” said Rogers, the committee chair. “This bill goes a long way toward fixing those problems.”

The bill seeks to boost troops’ take-home pay in an era of high inflation via a dramatic change to the military’s pay tables, with junior enlisted troops getting a pay increase of nearly 20 percent next year. That means almost all service members will make more than $30,000 annually in base pay.

Also included in the bill are increases to troops’ housing allowances, wider eligibility for the military’s Basic Allowance for Subsistence stipend, and improved pay and benefits for Department of Defense child care workers — measures aimed at helping younger military families, keeping troops in the services longer, and attracting potential recruits.

Those measures are in addition to a 4.5 percent pay raise for all service members next year.

Russia satellite scare

Russia’s development of a nuclear weapon in space was also on lawmakers’ minds, with an amendment adopted that would require a report on the impact of the detonation of such a weapon beyond earth’s atmosphere.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), also mandates a report from the U.S. government on whether intelligence sources were “compromised or lost” after classified information was leaked earlier this year about Russia’s development of such a weapon.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) in February first made the public aware of what Moscow was working on when he cryptically warned of a new national security threat.

Moulton said he offered the amendment as it is vital to “understand the consequences” of the leak of information.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has denied developing or preparing to deploy a nuclear weapon in space.

What didn’t make it in

The committee markup did see multiple amendments overwhelmingly voted down, including one from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) that would have banned the U.S. from sending Ukraine cluster munitions, a measure defeated in a 10-48 vote.

Gaetz also tried and failed to insert an amendment into the bill that would have prevented Ukraine from receiving aid from presidential drawdowns.

Moulton, meanwhile, initially floated but withdrew an amendment that took aim at F-35 issues by allowing the Defense secretary to seize intellectual property from Lockheed Martin — the fighter jet’s maker — a failed measure that nonetheless opened up debate among members.

“We all know that the F-35 program is behind schedule,” Moulton said. “It’s way over budget grossly, and it’s not delivering the programs ready to fight that we need.”

Several GOP members voiced support for such an effort later down the line, but committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said it would be “no small thing for the government to confiscate intellectual property” and likely “really, really, really expensive.”

The bill now heads to the House floor. The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, is set to take up its version of the NDAA in June.

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