The House of Representatives was busy last night! Not only did it pass — on an almost party-line vote — a bill that will probably get us past the stupid debt limit stupidity for another year, it also checked off one more of its annual chores, passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), so we can have Pentagon and Pentagon Accessories for another year.
The $768 billion defense spending bill — yes, the military price tag for one year is double what they're bitching is too much debt over 10 years for Joe Biden's Build Back Better — passed on a bipartisan vote of 363 to 70, and is expected to easily pass the Senate as well. The Troops must have money, not to mention the patriotic defense contractors who make America what it is today: a bloated global arms merchant and purveyor of colonial ambition. Oh yes, and bastion of freedom, we hear.
Military Pay Raise and Parental Leave!
The bill includes a 2.7 percent pay raise for servicemembers, and will for the first time take a whack at reforming the way the military deals with sexual assault crimes, although a more thorough reform of the military justice system was axed to speed the passage of the bill, despite its having bipartisan support. To ensure passage in the Senate, the bill also left out House proposals to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, which has been used by subsequent presidents of both parties to pursue other wars in the Middle East, and it got rid of a provision that would have required women to register for the draft as well. On the up side, the bill will fund 12 weeks of parental leave for all service members, a first.
Gillibrand's Sex Assault Trial Reforms
The changes to the military justice system represent a partial sort of victory for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has fought for reform of how the military handles sexual assault for about as long as I've been at Wonkette. Roll Call explains the bill will empower special victims prosecutors in each of the services, who'll be largely independent of the chain of command, to decide whether to prosecute sexual crimes and related cases, as well as charges of murder and kidnapping. It takes the decision to prosecute out of the hands of commanding officers, who in the past have often been accused of looking the other way or downplaying assaults.
The Washington Post explains that the final version of the NDAA passed by the House is still weaker than Gillibrand's initial proposal, which would have
put all crimes carrying a maximum jail term of a year or more under the purview of the special victims prosecutor, and put the authority to convene courts-martial in the hands of an independent authority as well. Many supporters of that plan are concerned that commanders — even if obligated to follow the “binding” direction from a special victims prosecutor to convene a trial — could create other obstacles to justice, by retaining the right to select the jury or by prematurely dismissing charges.
Gillibrand is pissed that her full bill was "gutted" by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, noting in a statement that her stand-alone bill for military justice reform already had the support of two-thirds supermajorities in both houses.
She noted that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had already called for the NDAA to completely remove commanders from any part of the process of prosecuting sex crimes, and that Austin had argued that
The DoD Office of the Special Victim Prosecutor structure must be, and must be seen as, independent of the chains of command of the victim and of the accused all the way through the Secretaries of the Military Departments. Anything less will likely be seen as compromising what is designed to be an independent part of the military justice process, thus significantly undermining this recommendation…Finally, because of the breadth and depth of the lack of trust by junior enlisted Service members in commanders, it was determined that the status quo or any variation on the status quo that retained commanders as disposition authorities in sexual harassment, sexual assault, and related cases would fail to offer the change required to restore confidence in the system. [bold in Gillibrand statement]
Gillibrand pledged that she would continue to seek passage of her full bill in the Senate in a floor vote.
Afghanistan War Commission
The NDAA also establishes an independent Afghanistan War Commission to review the US's longest foreign war.* Introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Roll Call reports the commission would
look at the complete history of U.S. government failures over two decades of conflict. Anyone who was in a decision-making or policymaking role related to Afghanistan would be ineligible to serve on the 16-member panel, so it would not include any former generals, anyone who served in Congress at any time during the war or any former senior administration officials whose portfolios included Afghanistan.
*Our great nation's genocidal 19th Century Indian Wars actually ran longer and were technically against sovereign nations. The Apache Wars alone were fought actively from 1849 to 1886, with skirmishes into the early 20th century, and didn't formally end until 1924. But who's counting? No commission on those, but at least Duckworth's provision means the commission will examine the entire 19-year mess in Afghanistan, and not just last summer's withdrawal and government collapse as some Republicans had hoped.
The House also scrapped a proposal to require women to register for the draft, which hasn't existed anyway since 1973; the provision was intended to make clear that women do too belong in the military, but it was killed off by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Snowballs In Oklahoma), who was personally offended by the insult to America's tender ladies.
“I’m proud to have successfully removed this provision from the final agreement,” Inhofe said in a statement. “Plain and simple, we shouldn’t be forcing our daughters and granddaughters to register for the Selective Service.”
Fabulous New Wars!
In terms of getting ready for some fabulous new wars, the NDAA boosted funding for the "Pacific Deterrence Initiative," an existing Pentagon plan to deter "Chinese aggression," giving the program $7.1 billion, a good $2 billion more than the Biden administration had asked for, so take that, Communist China! It'll also pump up military aid to Ukraine by $300 million, in hopes that Russia may decide not to invade that country. No word on whether any of the new funding would go to expand Ukraine's meme war capabilities, which are already impressive. Yes, that really is the official Ukrainian government Twitter account.
pic.twitter.com/bBtsdr7wmX— Ukraine / \u0423\u043a\u0440\u0430\u0457\u043d\u0430 (@Ukraine / \u0423\u043a\u0440\u0430\u0457\u043d\u0430) 1638882581
Happily, this year the NDAA does not have to deal with the question of holding big grand military parades in Washington DC to prove we can be just like North Korea or Russia, so count your blessings as you find them, the end.
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