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It’s easy to become cynical and disheartened after reading that the House gave another big boost to Pentagon spending.  The House-passed military policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), provides a whopping $768 billion for military programs—nearly $25 billion more than President Joe Biden requested, which was already a multi-billion dollar increase over last year.

But we see glimmers of hope as the tide begins to turn on many of the issues we’ve been following.  Here are our big take-aways:

The House adopted stringent restrictions on U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war and blockade in Yemen.

Rep. Ro Khanna’s (CA-17) amendment—approved by a bipartisan vote of 219-207—terminates all logistical support, intelligence sharing, and spare parts transfers for Saudi warplanes conducting aerial strikes against the Houthis in Yemen. This is a big step forward in the campaign to end all forms of U.S. military support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. 

A similar version of this amendment passed the House twice before with bipartisan majorities and was endorsed by several policy experts who are now key Biden administration officials: Jake Sullivan, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Wendy Sherman. FCNL led a coalition letter signed by 56 national organizations in support of the Khanna provision. 

The House endorsed new measures to acknowledge U.S. responsibility for civilian harms. 

Among the provisions adopted as part of a large package were a measure by Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) urging full accountability for the recent U.S. airstrike that killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan; a provision from Rep. Khanna in support of ex gratia payments to the families of innocent civilians killed by U.S. forces; an amendment by Rep. Chuy Garcia (IL-04) mandating a report to Congress on the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions; and an amendment by Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele (HI-02) to rescind Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. army members who killed hundreds of unarmed Lakota women, children, and men on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which later became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (NM-03) led a successful amendment apologizing to those exposed to radiation from nuclear testing, which passed 240-185, with 21 Republicans voting in favor.

The House linked U.S. arms sales and security assistance to human rights abroad. 

Members approved a provision from Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-11) that limits arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it stops killing dissidents, unjustly imprisoning U.S. citizens and torturing detainees.

Another provision from Rep. Connolly requires a report on coup leaders who have received military training from the United States, and one by Rep. Sara Jacobs (CA-53) requires human rights vetting of foreign security forces before the United States provides military support to their counterterrorism operations.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) submitted a successful amendment to deny U.S. weapons, military aid or military training to the Saudi unit responsible for the murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khoshoggi.

Members continue to challenge the militarist U.S. approach to “national security.”  

The House rejected several amendments designed to cut the Pentagon budget and address some of the structural reasons for its endless growth. However, a strong majority of Democrats voted in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) to deduct $25 billion from the total, with 142 Democrats voting in favor and 77 opposed.

A few amendments we like did pass, including requirements from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) for a study of unexpected cost increases for nuclear warhead upgrades and from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) for an analysis of options for reducing nuclear security programs and modifying force structures. 

The full Senate has not yet considered its version of the NDAA yet, so there’s still a long way to go before any of these provisions make it into law.  But we’ll be working hard to convince representatives and senators to retain these helpful sections in any final agreement.

And we know from experience that your voice makes a difference.  It’s not the overall opinion polls that matter—it’s the opinions of the constituents who care enough about an issue to contact their legislators!

Diana Ohlbaum, Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum

Former Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum directed FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.