Senate passes defense bill, revokes military Covid vaccine mandate


The Senate voted on Thursday to pass sweeping legislation that would authorize $858 billion in defense funding and revoke the U.S. military’s mandate for a Covid vaccine.

Now that it has passed the Senate, the bill has been approved for President Joe Biden’s signature. The House of Representatives has already approved the measure — the final negotiated version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which sets the policy agenda and authorizes funding for the Department of Defense.

The measure authorizes $817 billion specifically for the Department of Defense as part of its $858 billion total defense funding revenue. Huge bills include a fixed number of policy provisions. Among other things, it would authorize a 4.6 percent raise for military members. It includes provisions to strengthen air power and land warfare defenses, as well as cybersecurity. It also aims to bolster U.S. support for Ukraine and NATO.

The rule was dropped after congressional Republicans pushed to repeal the military’s Covid vaccine mandate. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy praised the rule, saying, “The end of President Biden’s military COVID vaccine mission is a victory for our military and common sense.”

The Senate voted on a number of amendments before a vote on final passage.

A proposed amendment is a measure introduced by senators. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, and other conservatives will reinstate members of the military who were fired for refusing a Covid-19 vaccine. However, the amendment did not pass.

The basic defense bill does remove the military’s vaccine mandate, but it doesn’t restore those service members.

The White House declined to say last week whether Biden would sign the must-pass annual defense bill if it included provisions to revoke the military’s Covid vaccine mandate, reiterating that the president continues to support the mandate but leaves the door open for repeal.

But while White House officials have delayed — and unequivocally supported — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s opposition to revoking the authorization, the inclusion of the provision in the final compromise underscores the realities playing out behind the scenes in recent days. Democrats concluded that in order for a must-pass policy bill to pass the finish line, Republican priorities must be included. White House officials quietly acknowledged that meant their opposition to the language on the vaccine wouldn’t block the passage of the bill.

The final version of the defense policy bill is the product of lengthy negotiations between key lawmakers in the House and Senate.

The bill outlines the policy agenda for the Department of Defense and the U.S. military and authorizes spending based on Pentagon priorities, though the legislation itself does not allocate funds.

This story and title have been updated with additional developments.

Correction: This story has been updated to correctly attribute who is working to include an amendment that would reinstate military personnel who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19. The measure was proposed by senators. Ron Johnson and other Senate conservatives.

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