There are now 900 amendments to the NDAA. We break down some of the most extravagant and expensive.
Lawmakers have left Washington, D.C. to campaign in their home states and districts for the midterm elections and won’t be back on Capitol Hill until mid-November. Before they left town, senators filed over 900 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill.
Many of these amendments could significantly increase U.S. military spending beyond even currently unsustainable levels, either later this year or in coming years.
The NDAA attracts so many amendment proposals in part because it is one of the few bills left that Congress reliably passes. In recent years legislators have been compensating for their failure to pass laws by making proposals for the NDAA. Many seem to have nothing to do with national defense — like Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) energy permit reform and Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) Electoral Count Act reform. The House’s version of the NDAA attracted an astounding 1,230 amendment proposals, dozens of which were adopted by the House when they passed it in July.
Many of the Senate amendments already proposed would increase spending significantly inside and outside the U.S. military, but are not receiving the scrutiny they deserve amidst hundreds of other measures.
One proposal from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) would authorize $15 billion to the Department of Defense (DoD) for a Taiwan Security Assistance Initiative, “to accelerate Taiwan’s deployment of asymmetric defense capabilities required to deter or, if necessary, defeat an invasion by the People’s Republic of China.” A separate bipartisan proposal from Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), James Risch (R-ID), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 would authorize $6.5 billion for “Taiwan Foreign Military Finance grant assistance,” with escalating amounts each year from 2023 through 2027.
A measure from Sen. Menendez, the Arsenal of Democracy Act of 2022, would authorize $15 billion to the Department of State for “the provision of defense articles and defense services” to Ukraine, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, and “any democratic country that has provided defense articles to Ukraine.”
An amendment from Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) would authorize nearly $10 billion for the Asia Reassurance Initiative to expand “defense cooperation with [U.S.] allies and partners” in the Indo-Pacific region as a means of countering China. And a bipartisan proposal led by Sen. Manchin would authorize $3.5 billion for a new “Nuclear Fuel Security Program,” to reduce U.S. reliance on uranium from China and Russia.
As with all proposals in the NDAA, the amendments are authorizations of appropriations, not appropriations themselves. Essentially, the NDAA represents Congress saying “we would like to spend ‘X’ number of dollars on the military,” and sets policy for the DoD, while subsequent appropriations bills actually provide the ‘X’ number of dollars outlined in the NDAA. Authorized proposals don’t always get funded right away.
But sometimes they do, and American taxpayers pay the price when the government doesn’t reduce spending elsewhere to cover the cost. The CHIPS (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science) Act of 2022 is an excellent example; this law provides tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to semiconductor manufacturers. Members of both parties voted in favor, but some conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats opposed the act, framing the subsidies as corporate welfare. Few policymakers mentioned that the CHIPS Act was made possible by authorizations of appropriations in the prior year’s NDAA, which green-lit the CHIPS for America Fund.
The next CHIPS-type bill — providing massive subsidies to U.S. companies in the name of supply chain resilience and manufacturing competition with China — might already have been proposed as an amendment to this year’s NDAA. Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have introduced their awkwardly named Improving American Security through Manufacturing Resilience/Strengthening American Manufacturing and Supply Chain Resiliency Act of 2022 as an amendment to the Senate NDAA.
The proposal would authorize an astounding $50.5 billion for loans, grants, and loan guarantees to U.S. businesses, universities, and non-profits for the “development … improvement … or expansion” of supply chains and domestic manufacturing. It could become the next major corporate subsidy boondoggle in Congress, especially if the authorization is approved in the Senate NDAA this fall.
There are plenty of proposed amendments to increase spending for military hardware like the V-22 Osprey aircraft, Abrams tanks, and Stryker vehicles. Tally up all these proposals and the authorization price tag surpasses $100 billion. None of the amendments are paid for with reductions to other military authorizations. Some of them might hitch a ride on a so-called manager’s amendment, a bipartisan set of potentially dozens of proposals that the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will agree to behind the scenes and then propose publicly shortly before the Senate votes.
Of these 900-plus amendment proposals, only one proposes significant cuts to the Pentagon budget. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have introduced an amendment to reduce NDAA authorization levels by $45 billion — essentially canceling out the increase approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee in June. Sadly, his amendment is almost certain to fail.
Advocates for a smaller military budget should watch the NDAA amendment space. While budget watchers will understandably be preoccupied with the topline spending levels, 900-plus amendments leave a lot of opportunities to sneak extra military spending into a massive, must-pass bill.
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