Democrats cram unrelated policies into defense bill

Lawmakers using must-pass military spending legislation to push agenda items that don't keep the country safe, critics argue.

Published: October 7, 2022 4:01pm

Updated: October 9, 2022 11:17pm

Democrats are loading an annual, must-pass bill that authorizes the Department of Defense's spending and policy priorities for the next fiscal year with various measures unrelated to national defense, causing anger on Capitol Hill as Republicans accuse them of prioritizing a left-wing political agenda over the nation's security.

The current debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, comes amid broader concerns that the Pentagon itself is too focused on priorities other than deterring and preparing for war.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has been pushing to include an amendment to the NDAA to address high credit card fees, working with Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) to frame the measure as a way to help military veterans.

"These swipe fees inflate the prices that consumers pay for groceries and gas, and, incredibly, veterans are being charged extra for commissary purchases because of these exorbitant fees," Durbin said in a statement. "With these amendments, we can bring real competition to credit card networks to help reduce swipe fees and hold down costs for Main Street merchants and their customers; and bring transparency to the shameful surcharge fees inflicted upon our veterans."

According to Durbin's office, however, the Credit Card Competition Act of 2022 "would direct the Federal Reserve to ensure that giant credit card-issuing banks offer a choice of at least two networks over which an electronic credit transaction may be processed, with certain exceptions."

The amendment appears to have nothing to do with the military or veterans' issues. Durbin's statement last week introducing the NDAA amendment was almost identical to the initial press release introducing the legislation in July — except the first version made no mention of veterans.

Durbin is also using the NDAA to attempt to pass another measure seemingly unrelated to defense spending. The amendment, which has the support of several Democrats and Republican Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.), would exempt foreign graduates of American universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math from annual green card limits.

"America should always be focused on maintaining a strong STEM workforce because it strengthens our economy and enhances our ability to compete on the world stage," Durbin told the Dispatch. "By denying international students with STEM degrees from U.S. universities the opportunity to continue their work here, we are losing their talents to countries overseas and won't see the positive impacts of their American education."

Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) filed an amendment to the NDAA to stop federal employees from being reclassified as political appointees without the consent of Congress. Individuals can be fired more easily if they're designated as political appointees.

"Career federal employees have protections in place to prevent any one administration from firing them and replacing them with political appointees," Feinstein said in a statement. "These positions should remain nonpartisan, independent, and based on expertise, and that's the goal of this amendment."

The measure is meant to undermine former President Donald Trump's executive order to allow agency heads to reclassify many federal employees to a new category that would allow for them to be replaced more easily.

"Trump reportedly plans to reinstate Schedule F immediately if reelected to the presidency, which would allow him to fire up to 50,000 federal workers and replace them with political hires," Feinstein's office said in a press release.

Republicans are calling out their Democratic colleagues for holding up the mandatory defense bill by trying to sneak in unrelated amendments.

"Democrats are using the NDAA to push their own social policies instead of working to keep America secure and strong," a senior Republican congressional aide told Just the News. "That's all the NDAA should be about."

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who previously served in Congress as a Republican, also criticized Democrats for spearheading many of these measures.

"Our military should be focused on lethality and keeping America safe," Pompeo tweeted this week. "When Democrats push unrelated social policies in the Defense Authorization process, it weakens our military and undermines our national security. Republicans should stop them."

This is not the first year that Democratic lawmakers have used the NDAA to push policies not directly related to national defense.

In 2020, amid Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd's death, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a controversial amendment to rename all bases and other military assets honoring the Confederacy.

The Senate is expected to vote on the NDAA after the midterm elections in November.

The Democrat-led House passed its version of the NDAA totaling $839 billion in July. Some Republicans voted against the legislation, citing what they described as woke and non-germane measures.

Some experts criticized lawmakers at the time for introducing unrelated amendments. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif), for example, submitted one to require that only domestically grown cut flowers may be displayed by the president and the State and Defense departments.

"Some of the amendments serve merely to advance the woke agenda of progressives," Thomas Spoehr and Frederico Bartels of the Heritage Foundation wrote at the time, citing numerous Democrat-backed proposals to the NDAA related to promoting diversity and implementing a green agenda to combat climate change.

Beyond Congress, the Pentagon itself has come under fire from experts and Republicans for deprioritizing warfighting and embracing wokeness. Just the News has reported extensively on this issue in recent months.

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