Sens. Kaine, Warner share statements after Senate approves sweeping defense bill

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(The Hill/WFXR) — The Senate on Wednesday passed a sweeping defense policy bill on an 89-10 vote, ending a weeks-long standoff that had stalled work on the legislation. 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending top-lines and policy for the Pentagon, passed the House last week and now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it. 

“For the past six years, Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to pass an annual defense authorization act without fail. …With so many priorities to balance, I thank my colleagues for working hard over these last few months, both in committee and off the food, to get NDAA done,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. 

The $768.2 billion bill provides $740 billion for the Department of Defense. Both chambers agreed to add $25 billion more than what Biden requested for fiscal year 2022 for the defense budget.

It also includes $27.8 billion for defense activities in the Department of Energy and another $378 million for other defense-related activities.

The defense bill also includes a major overhaul of how the military prosecutes certain crimes, including military sexual assault. The bill strips commanders of most of their authority, but they would still be allowed to conduct trials, pick jury members, and approve witnesses and grant immunity.

The following list includes many of the priorities U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) advocated that were featured in the final bill, according to the senator’s office:

  • Topline: An additional $25 billion to Biden’s budget, funding many of the military services’ unfunded requirements.
  • Resilience at military facilities: The bill includes Kaine’s Enhancing Military Base Resilience and Conserving Ecosystems through Stormwater Management (EMBRACE) Act, legislation to authorize the Department of Defense to carry out stormwater management projects at military installations to improve resilience at the facilities while protecting waterways and stormwater impacted ecosystems, such as those that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Shipbuilding: The bill includes over $27 billion for shipbuilding, an increase of over $4 billion, to purchase two Virginia class submarines, three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one Constellation-class Frigate and two Expeditionary Fast Transport, and other support ships. The bill also provides over $12.5 billion for ship maintenance and repair at public and private shipyards.
  • Military construction: Features more than $13 billion for military construction projects, including 18 projects in Virginia, totaling over $475 million:
    • $6.9 million for a maintenance shop at the Army National Guard facility in Troutville
    • $6.1 million for a National Guard Readiness Center addition at the Troutville facility
    • $43.9 million for Submarine Pier 3 at Naval Station Norfolk
    • $75.1 million for a CMV-22 Aircraft Maintenance Hangar and Airfield Improvements at Naval Station Norfolk
    • $30 million for a Dry Dock Saltwater System for CVN-78 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard
    • $42.8 million for a vehicle inspection and visitor control center at Quantico
    • $30 million for a wargaming center at Quantico
    • $29.8 million for a veterinary treatment facility replacement at Fort Belvoir
    • $20 million for a consolidated maintenance complex at the Pentagon
    • $8.6 million for force protection perimeter enhancements at the Pentagon
    • $21.9 million for a Public Works Support Facility at the Pentagon
    • $24 million for a fuel system maintenance dock at Joint Base Langley-Eustis
    • $36 million for a Special Ops Forces Battalion Ops Facility at Humphreys Center at Fort Belvoir
    • $93.5 million for a Navy Munitions Command facility recap at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station
    • $5 million for an Electrical System upgrade for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency campus in Springfield
    • $5.8 million for planning and design of an Army Aviation Support Facility in Sandston
  • Sexual assault: Removes the chain of command from decisions related to the prosecution of several crimes including rape, sexual assault, murder, manslaughter and kidnapping.
  • Privatized military housing: Requires the services to ensure performance evaluations assess how installation commanders performed oversight and managed privatized military housing challenges.
  • Restores military housing personnel: Provides $3 million to allow the Department of Defense (DOD) to hire back personnel cut by reductions enacted by the Committee over Kaine’s objections in 2015 and 2016. This personnel will work on oversight of military housing, climate change impacts, and resiliency of our military bases.
  • Arsenal optimization: The final bill includes a requirement for the Secretary of the Army to develop a master plan for the revitalization and modernization of the Army’s arsenals initially proposed by an amendment offered by Kaine and U.S. Sen. Masha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). These arsenals are the critical manufacturing centers for components of nearly every DOD weapon, but many facilities date back to WWII. 
  • Prohibition on equipment from China: Prohibits the Department of Defense (DOD) from buying personal protective equipment manufactured in China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran, while giving DOD flexibility for overseas use, small purchases, and urgent needs.
  • Support for the industrial base: Provides an additional $91 million for Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Support fund, which can support a range of initiatives like digital manufacturing, industrial skills training, and submarine construction workforce training pipeline. 
  • Bien Hoa dioxin cleanup: Provides $15 million for cleanup of Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam. In 2019, Kaine led the effort to include funding to USAID to clean up dioxin, a byproduct of Agent Orange, after visiting the formal inauguration of the remediation project at the airbase.

“As a member of the Armed Services Committee, each year I work to deliver for Virginia’s military community and provide our Armed Forces with the tools necessary to keep our nation safe,” said Kaine in a statement about the bill’s passage. “I am thrilled we’ve done just that again this year with the FY22 NDAA, which also includes landmark reforms to address the scourge of sexual assault in our military ranks. I look forward to seeing this important bipartisan legislation signed into law and continuing the work to protect those who have made tremendous sacrifices for our nation.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) says he also authored or cosponsored a number of provisions in the bill that would accomplish the following:

  • Make historic reforms to the military’s handling of sexual assault cases.
    • Provisions modeled after the Warner-sponsored Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would empower independent prosecutors with the exclusive authority to refer certain offenses to trial, removing this authority from the military chain of command; improve tracking of sexual assault retaliation claims; include sexual harassment as a “standalone offense” and make claims subject to investigation by an independent investigator; expand use of a Department of Defense safe helpline for sexual assault reporting; and make important reforms to help support survivors.
  • Create a basic needs allowance for servicemembers in order to ensure that all men and women in uniform can support their families with necessities like adequate food.
    • The provision, modeled after the Warner-sponsored Military Hunger Prevention Act, is aimed at combating disturbing rates of food insecurity in the military.
  • Commission a report on the impacts of the Afghan resettlement mission on the National Guard.
    • Support from the military has been vital in the historic and incredibly important Operation Allies Welcome mission, helping bring vulnerable Afghans to safety, and ultimately resettling them in the U.S. This provision would require the Secretary of Defense to produce a report on the impacts of that resettlement mission on the National Guard, including any effects on mission readiness, training, maintenance, and equipment.
  • Require a fuller analysis on planned restructuring of military medical positions.
    • The final bill includes a provision that mirrors an amendment introduced by Warner to hold the military’s plans for reductions and realignment to military end strength authorizations, pending an independent Government Accountability Office review of the analysis backing the move, and its potential impacts.
  • Promote defense research at HBCUs and MSIs.
    • Based off Warner’s amendment and bill the BEACON Act of 2021, the NDAA requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan to promote defense research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions, including by providing contracting assistance and establishing goals and incentives for further partnership.
  • Support military mental health resources by creating a process through which a servicemember can self-initiate a referral for mental health evaluation.
    • Warner cosponsored a bipartisan amendment to include this provision – that provision is modeled after the Brandon Act, which is named in honor of United States Navy Petty Officer Third Class Brandon Caserta.

“I’m proud to have voted today to pass legislation that will further strengthen our nation’s military and technological capabilities, as well as reaffirm our commitment to servicemembers – all while making crucial investments that will boost local economies and the industrial base throughout Virginia. I look forward to seeing this bill get signed into law,” Warner stated following the approval of the bill.

However, changes were not enough for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who had been pressing to completely remove commanders from the chain of command in these instances and let independent military prosecutors handle them.

Gillibrand has called for a vote on her original proposal, arguing that the authority the commander still has under the NDAA does not bring about true independence.

As part of the final agreement, lawmakers dropped a requirement from the bill that would have required women to register for the selective service. The provision had garnered pushback from some Republicans, who didn’t want to require women to register, while some progressives pushed for ending the draft altogether. 

The bill also does not include a deal to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Iraq War authorizations worked out by Kaine and U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.). A failure to reach a larger agreement on the amendments that would be considered to the legislation torpedoes the Iraq War provisions. The setback effectively punts the issue to 2022 even though the Kaine-Young deal had enough support to get past a filibuster. 

An effort to impose sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline also did not get into the bill. U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) had been expected to get an amendment vote, despite opposition from the administration, but the amendment deal was blocked by Rubio, who wanted his own proposal in the legislation. 

The Senate previously passed bipartisan legislation from Rubio on banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where administration officials have accused the government of carrying out genocide against Uyghur Muslims. But Rubio wanted to get his bill into the defense legislation as an amendment or to force action in the House where it had languished for months. 

Though Rubio didn’t work out a deal on his legislation in time for breaking the stalemate on the defense bill, he and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) announced this week that they had cut an agreement. 

The NDAA also includes a provision that would prohibit the Pentagon from using funds for certain procurements from China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing has come under fire for human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim population.

“The United States is so reliant on China that we have turned a blind eye to the slave labor that makes our clothes, our solar panels, and much more,” Rubio said. It is time to end our economic addiction to China.”

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