Wyoming Delegation’s Measures Incorporated into Senate’s National Defense Bill

The upper chamber’s bipartisanship stands in stark contrast to the House’s process

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Aug 02, 2023

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) won approval of an amendment aimed at increasing domestic nuclear energy production in the Senate's version of the National Defense Authorization Act. (Photo via C-SPAN)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual bill establishing military funding levels and American defense policy for the coming fiscal year, setting up a showdown with the House over differences between the two chambers’ approaches to the must-pass legislation.

The overwhelmingly bipartisan Senate vote in favor of the measure, 86–11, stood in direct contrast to the partisanship inherent in the House’s approach to the bill, with Senate leaders from both parties praising the process that brought about such a smooth outcome.

“What’s happening in the Senate is a stark contrast to the partisan race to the bottom we saw in the House, where House Republicans are pushing partisan legislation that has zero chance of passing,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor ahead of the final vote on July 27.

“This is really important for our country,” echoed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

While House Republicans pushed to include restrictive social policies in their chamber’s version of the defense authorization bill — prohibiting military funding for abortions, transgender health care and diversity initiatives — Senate debate mostly stayed away from such controversies.

Out of nearly 1,000 amendments proposed to the legislation in the Senate, lawmakers voted on just 98 — and most were approved on a bipartisan basis.

“We have a very divided country. We have a divided Congress. But nonetheless, we were able to come together and pass a bill overwhelmingly on one of the most important issues facing America, the defense bill,” Schumer said in a post-vote press conference.

Takeaways from the bill

The House and the Senate’s NDAA bills share key similarities: both authorize $886 billion in defense and national security spending next year, including a 5.2% pay raise for military service members and Department of Defense personnel. Both versions also earmark an additional $300 million in security assistance to Ukraine.

Yet the Senate version mostly steers clear of the controversial social policies baked into the House’s measure, making no mention of abortion or transgender health care. Even those Republican lawmakers opposed to abortion were against their inclusion in this bill: “One way to gum up the works at this point is to get off into divisive issues like abortion,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told the Wall Street Journal.

The 1,234-page Senate NDAA makes only one mention of gender identity: preventing the Department of Defense from “requiring” service members to include their gender pronouns in official correspondences.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) contrasted his chamber’s approach to the national defense bill to the House’s debate, which he described as a “partisan race to the bottom.” (Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images)  

In 2021, the U.S. Air Force became the first military branch to allow service members to include their pronouns in their official signature block, though thus far there’s been no discussion of any mandate to do so.

While not blocking all pro–military diversity measures, as was the case in the House, the Senate version of the national defense bill prevents the hiring of new employees working on diversity initiatives and imposes a “grade cap” on employees whose “sole duties” involve diversity, equity and inclusion work. Such employees may be paid no higher than the GS–10 rate, according to the legislative text, which typically falls between $52,000 and $67,000 a year. Existing employees making more than that must be reassigned to new positions not focused on diversity measures within 180 days.

Wyoming senators win approval of key measures

Several non-controversial amendments supported by Wyoming’s senators won approval in the final bill. One proposal, backed by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), would prevent foreign nations, including China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, from purchasing U.S. farmland and agricultural businesses.

“Wyoming ranchers should not be worried about the Chinese Communist Party setting up shop next to them,” Lummis said in a statement. “Allowing China, Russia, Iran and North Korea to buy Wyoming farmland is like inviting the fox into the hen house.” Her measure passed the Senate 91–7.

Another Lummis-backed measure drew on language from her newly-reintroduced cryptocurrency regulation bill to impose new regulations aimed at preventing the use of crypto assets in financial crimes.

The measure requires regulators to set examination standards for financial institutions utilizing digital assets in their transactions and requires the Treasury Department to report recommendations to Congress regarding technologies aimed at obscuring crypto transactions.

Approved 97–3 in a package of other amendments, the proposal united lawmakers not typically in agreement on policy matters, including Lummis and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).

“Cracking down on illicit finance in the crypto asset industry is essential for weeding out bad actors and ensuring crypto assets are not used to evade sanctions and fund terrorism,” Lummis said in a joint statement from the lawmakers, who noted the amendment represents “one of the most substantial congressional actions to date regarding crypto assets.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), for his part, won approval 96–3 for his Nuclear Fuel Security Act, which directs the Department of Energy to prioritize increasing domestic production of different types of uranium for nuclear reactors.

“For decades now, Russia has flooded America’s uranium market,” Barrasso said in remarks on the Senate floor, noting the adversary has effectively “driven America’s nuclear fuel suppliers out of business.” He also highlighted that his measure would help companies like TerraPower, which plans to build its first natrium reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

What comes next

With both congressional chambers now having passed bills that vary significantly, lawmakers will head to a “conference committee” to hash out agreements on the measures’ differences.

But how long that might take remains an open question. Any changes to the legislation must be ratified by votes of both the full House and Senate.

“It will take some hard work, but no one wants the United States of America to go without a military,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made waves when he announced he’d appoint firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to the committee. Known for her socially conservative views and history of incendiary statements, some lawmakers were concerned her presence would only hamper reconciliation efforts.

“What I firmly believe in any conference [committee] is that you have to be reflective of our entire conference. So there’ll be a number of people who serve,” McCarthy told reporters in response.

Asked who else he’d appoint, he demurred. “Wait and you’ll be able to see the list when I provide it.”

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