Update: The final NDAA bill passed the House on Wednesday 377-48. The vote can be found here.
The House version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) set aside an irresponsibly large amount of money for military spending, but it also added some antiwar amendments and other very basic limitations. The House and Senate versions have now been reconciled into a final bill, and materially all of the limitations that the House voted on and approved have been stripped away, in favor of a $738 billion bill that continues spending, but makes no attempt to rein in the military in any serious way.
The House bill had included the latest attempt to use the power of the purse to end US military involvement in Yemen, something that both houses had attempted to do in a War Powers Act resolution that was previously vetoed by President Trump. That language will not be in the final bill.
Nor will House language from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) that said any US attack on Iran could only come with the passage of an authorization for the use of military force against Iran. That is to say, it preemptively aimed to forbid an unauthorized US attack on Iran. The language is gone, and while theoretically the president is meant to be forbidden from unauthorized attacks, that’s not the way recent administrations have treated the law.
The bill also removes language that forbade the Pentagon from researching low-yield nuclear weapons. Some officials had been advocating the development of “more usable” nukes, despite concerns that this would mean the usage of such arms would become more common.
At its core, a lot of the language in the House bill was aimed at giving Congress more specific say on how the military is to carry out certain operations, and more importantly certain things that it is absolutely not to do. This was presented as necessary because Congressional Democrats were worried about President Trump acting unilaterally.
In the end, more or less all of this was stripped away, even backing away from border wall restrictions that were one of the first things put in place in the House bill.
Language the administration was supportive of, by contrast, did much better in reconciliation. Language sanctioning Russia for building a natural gas pipeline to Germany survived, and the bill even gives the administration its long-sought Space Force.
The expectation is that this final NDAA will be voted on in the House on Wednesday, and in the Senate some days later. It will almost certainly be signed by the president, since anything remotely objectionable to him has already been forgotten.