The Senate on Thursday approved a $858 billion military spending bill that passed the House last week and would revoke the military’s Covid-19 vaccine requirement, sending the legislation to the desk of President Joe Biden, who opposes the vaccine rollback and has not said whether he will sign the bill.
The legislation, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, passed the Senate 83-11 on Thursday.
The bill passed with widespread support from both parties, with five Republicans and six Democrats voting against it.
Included in the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass package of legislation that authorizes annual military appropriations, was a Republican-backed initiative to end the military’s Covid-19 vaccine policy implemented in August 2021.
The Senate voted down an amendment that would have also reinstated military members who were fired for refusing to be vaccinated against the coronavirus; the House failed to pass the amendment when it approved the National Defense Authorization Act last week.
A second amendment proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that would fast-track the federal approval process for issuing permits for energy-related projects failed; the House did not take up the provision.
Congress delayed passage of the bill amid a partisan debate over the reversal of the military Covid-19 vaccine mandate, but ultimately moved forward with the provision in a bid to recruit Republicans who said they would vote against the legislation without the vaccine rollback. The bill passed the House 350-80 on December 8, with 45 Democrats and 35 Republicans voting against it, while 176 Republicans and 174 Democrats voted in favor. The House, however, refused to take up demands from some Republicans to reinstate with back pay the 3,400 military members who were fired for refusing to be vaccinated. The bill includes a 4.6% pay raise for military members, $800 million in additional funding for Ukraine amid its war with Russia, and a provision that transfers authority over military crimes, including sexual assault and rape, from military commanders to professional prosecutors.
Biden, whose national security spokesperson recently called the rollback of the vaccine mandate a “mistake,” has not said whether he will sign the bill into law. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also expressed opposition to the rollback.
The Senate vote on Manchin’s permitting amendment makes good on a promise Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made earlier this year to Manchin that the upper chamber would take up his bill in exchange for Manchin’s support on the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden was in favor of Manchin’s energy-permitting legislation, which was expected to authorize completion of a natural gas pipeline through his home state. Some Republicans said Manchin’s legislation did not go far enough in loosening permitting restrictions on projects, including fossil fuel and renewable energy initiatives, while some progressives cast it as a giveaway for the fossil fuel industry. Even though it didn’t pass Thursday, the energy permitting bill still has a chance to pass as part of a fiscal 2023 government funding bill lawmakers are negotiating.
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