Far-right House Republicans are pushing to use the annual bill setting the US budget and military policy as an opportunity to fight the Biden administration over abortion, race and transgender issues. , jeopardizing its passage and the decades-long bipartisan consensus in Congress to back the Pentagon.
Republican leaders were scheduled to vote starting Wednesday on the $886 billion measure, but as of Tuesday night, they had yet to dissuade their ultra-conservative colleagues from efforts to saddle him with politically charged provisions to combat what the GOP called “wake up” in the military. .
Those proposals, including reversing a Pentagon policy giving service members access to abortions and defunding military diversity, equity and inclusion programs, would alienate moderate Republicans and Democrats whose votes would be needed to pass the bill. bill in the closely divided House.
The situation has made the annual defense policy bill the latest test of President Kevin McCarthy’s leadership since the far-right rioted over the debt-ceiling deal he forged with President Biden, paralyzing the House to demand more. influence on your agenda. Right-wing lawmakers have threatened to do it again if their priorities are not met, and this time, their tactics could ensnare what is seen as one of the few laws that must pass Congress each year, typically garnering broad support across the board. the world. the political spectrum.
This year’s bill would give military personnel a 5.2 percent raise, counter aggressive moves by China and Russia and establish a special inspector general to oversee US aid to Ukraine. But in recent years, the legislation has increasingly become a magnet for cultural strife, and now that Republicans control the House, members on the right have sought to exploit it to further their socially conservative agenda.
At stake is a significant part of the GOP’s attack on Biden and the Democrats, whom they accuse of trying to infuse radically liberal policies into all areas of American life. The Pentagon has figured prominently in his narrative, because it allows Republicans to link their grievances about cultural issues to national security and patriotism, effectively arguing that progressive policies are not just wrong but dangerous.
“I think it’s central and fundamental to defense that we stop making the Department of Defense an experiment in social engineering wrapped up in a uniform,” Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, said in an interview.
Mr Roy said he avoided ultimatums but would “wait” for votes to reverse Pentagon policies on abortion and diversity, indicating that he would not otherwise support allowing the bill to reach the assembly.
Conservatives have also proposed several provisions targeting transgender troops, including one that would deny coverage for transition services and another that would require them to use facilities that match their sex at birth.
Republicans have already inserted some provisions into the bill that seem intended to stoke debates over the culture war. During a drafting session last month in the House Armed Services Committee, Republican lawmakers added bans on drag performances on military bases and instructions on critical race theory.
But party leaders fear Conservative demands for more social policy dictates could break the bipartisan coalition they have built around the bill, which received near-unanimous approval from the armed forces panel.
“We had a full and healthy debate, a series of debates,” Rep. Mike D. Rogers, chairman of the military panel, said Tuesday during a Rules Committee hearing, referring to last month’s drafting session. “There were several amendments that were adopted to address this.”
McCarthy’s slim majority means he can afford to lose no more than four Republicans on any one vote, giving factions in his party enormous leverage to make demands. Last month, 11 far-right Republicans, including Roy, managed to paralyze the House of Representatives by withholding their votes for a rule governing legislative debate, in protest of the debt ceiling deal.
It was not clear if those lawmakers or others could do the same with the ground rules for the defense bill, which would preclude its consideration.
“I’m voting for the rule and I’m voting for the bill,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, said in an interview, after promising that conservative Republicans would force votes to “reverse the course of the ideology of radical gender in DOD” Mr. Gaetz was one of the legislators who protested the debt ceiling deal delaying another action on the House floor.
Republicans are unlikely to get Democratic help to introduce the defense bill if the measure satisfies conservative demands, and they could lose critical Democratic support needed to pass the legislation if Republicans vote en bloc to reverse the Pentagon policies on race, gender and abortion. In any case, passage of the bill along the party line would be virtually unheard of on Capitol Hill, signaling the erosion of a rare pillar of bipartisanship in Congress.
Democrats argued that rolling back diversity initiatives at the Pentagon would compromise the future of the military.
“A diverse force is crucial,” Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told the Rules Committee Tuesday, pleading with lawmakers not to allow a vote on the proposal. “We have recruiting challenges. We cannot take large groups of people and exclude them from that process. It’s about national security. This is not a left-wing political agenda.”
Nor did they express confidence that the House Republican leaders would succeed in subduing the conservatives.
“It sounds like the Freedom Caucus is telling you that ‘we can’t move forward unless we get our way on some of these divisive issues,'” Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, said in an interview. on Tuesday. “And if history is any indicator, when the Freedom Caucus says, ‘Jump,’ Kevin McCarthy responds by saying, ‘How high?’”
If Republicans manage to get the bill to the floor, top Republicans could help defeat some of the conservative proposals for social policy.
Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska and Michael R. Turner of Ohio, both Republicans, last month refused to support a proposal to defund the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
“Saying they’re going to completely defund diversity training, that doesn’t make sense,” Bacon said in an interview, recalling his own diversity training in the Air Force. “You have to have some policies on diversity, racism and sexism.”
Conservative lawmakers may face similar hurdles in persuading moderate Republicans to undo a Pentagon policy offering time off and travel reimbursement to service members who travel out of state to obtain an abortion or related services, an attempt to equalize the access after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
More than 50 House Republicans have signed amendments seeking to change the Pentagon’s abortion policy. But a handful have been outspoken critics of the Republican Party for trying to push ruthless policies.
“As a Republican, I want to make sure that I show compassion for women and that I don’t let the buck pass this week,” Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, said in an interview when asked about her party’s momentum. to roll back the Pentagon’s policy on abortion access. “That’s my concern as it stands.”