But the disagreements run deep in the competing bills. House Republicans passed a more partisan defense bill that includes provisions to undo the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, block funding for surgeries and hormone therapy for transgender troops and limit diversity training and programs. All but four House Democrats opposed the final bill, which in other years has been bipartisan.
Those House actions were non-starters in the Senate, which is led by Democrats but still requires bipartisan support to pass bills.
”What’s happening in the Senate is a stark contrast to the partisan race to the bottom we saw in the House,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “House Republicans are pushing partisan legislation that has zero chance of passing.”
The conventional wisdom is that many of the most hardline provisions House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republicans packed into their bill to win conservative votes won’t survive negotiations with the Senate.
Still, Senate Republicans scored some conservative wins in their version. The legislation prohibits the Pentagon from creating positions or filling vacancies related to diversity, equity and inclusion until the Government Accountability Office issues a report on the Pentagon’s workforce for those programs. It also caps the salaries for personnel who deal with diversity and inclusion issues.
Republicans also won inclusion of language forcing the Pentagon to dispose of unused border wall materials and produce a roadmap to counter drug and human trafficking on the southern border.
In the runup to a final vote Thursday, the Senate did tackle some tough amendments. Democrats rebuffed a proposal from Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) that would have limited the specific flags that can be flown over military bases and other public buildings. Similar proposals have been criticized by Democrats because they would effectively ban the pride flag.
Bipartisan majorities also crushed, 11-88, an offering from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to slash the Pentagon budget by 10 percent.
The blowout vote on the overall bill Thursday strengthens the Senate’s hand in negotiations with House leaders. Armed Services committee staffers will begin sorting out differences over the August break followed by naming members of the House and Senate to a formal joint conference committee to come up with a compromise that can be approved by both chambers.
Negotiations are expected to be a tough slog. And if House Republicans cave on many of their hardline proposals, McCarthy could face a conservative mutiny.
“Nobody on our side seriously believes the Democrat-controlled Senate, Democrat White House is going to accept those” social policy provisions, House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in an interview. “We set down a marker that if you, the American people, give us 60 votes in the Senate and the White House, this is what we’ll do. But we all know we only control one chamber.”
But the differences between the parallel bills go well beyond social issues.
The House, for instance, included a GOP-led proposal to establish an inspector general to oversee the billions of dollars spent to assist Ukraine. But the Senate on Wednesday rejected a pair of Ukraine watchdog proposals, one from Senate Armed Services ranking Republican Roger Wicker of Mississippi and another from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
The House bill also proposes shuttering the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, a move that wasn’t endorsed by the Senate. While some lawmakers argue the office has infringed on congressional intent to build up the Navy, the administration has defended CAPE as a necessary safeguard for taxpayer funds against cost overruns.
The Senate bill, meanwhile, cracks the door to a potential new military service by directing an independent assessment of creating a Cyber Force.
In all, the legislation authorizes $844.3 billion for the Pentagon and $32.4 billion for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs.
The Senate bill authorizes $1.9 billion for a San Antonio-class amphibious warship that was left out of the Navy’s budget request but that Marine Corps has campaigned to buy. The move is in synch with House Armed Services, which also supported purchasing the extra ship.
The legislation includes a $300 million authorization for the Pentagon to continue arming Ukraine.
Senators matched the Pentagon’s $9.1 billion request for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a program aimed at boosting U.S. military presence in the region to deter China and train with regional allies.
The bill greenlights a 5.2 percent pay raise for military personnel.
The legislation also includes nonbinding language that warns the $886 billion national defense spending limit set by a recent debt ceiling deal isn’t sufficient and urges Biden to request emergency supplemental funding for Ukraine, munitions production and other necessities.