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Politically charged social issues are dragged into Pentagon's budget battle

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now we hear from Congress, where culture wars are complicating an effort to approve funding for the United States military.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, the House of Representatives was supposed to vote this week on the authorization of $886 billion to pay for the U.S. military, but some Republicans want to amend the big authorization bill to shape military policy on things such as abortion access, transgender health care and diversity and recruiting. Now, that's triggering a warning from Representative Adam Smith, a top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SMITH: A small group of people isn't just saying, we want to vote on things that we care about. They want to say, if we don't get what we want, we'll tear the whole thing down.

INSKEEP: Marianna Sotomayor is a congressional reporter for the Washington Post and is covering this. Good morning.

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. So how many Republicans are trying to make culture war changes to this bill and who are they?

SOTOMAYOR: There are several in the far-right flank of the Republican conference who would like to amend the NDAA. I think the most notable issue is that there are dozens of House Republicans - some in the far right, some in the more mainstream - Republicans in the conference who actually want to change an abortion Pentagon policy, to actually reverse a policy that reimburses service members for travel expenses if they get an abortion. Now, this is a pretty controversial issue. There are some Republicans, like Nancy Mace, who has said she will vote against this provision. Republicans, of course, can only lose four votes. But more notably, Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar said yesterday that if that amendment is adopted, that would likely be a red line for the party, meaning Republicans will have to rely on 218 votes to pass it through their own majority.

Abortion isn't the only contentious issue. There are several others, including on LGBT rights, that are particularly targeting trans service members. And there's other issues too, like rolling back diversity and inclusion initiatives. And I should also mention there's a lot still focused on foreign policy.

INSKEEP: I want to follow up on one of the measures that you mentioned - military funding for service members who travel to get an abortion. This is essentially a follow-up to the Supreme Court's ruling on abortion rights - correct? - because now abortion is legal in some states, illegal in other states.

SOTOMAYOR: That's exactly correct. But this puts a lot of swing district Republicans, particularly those in districts that Biden won in 2020, in pretty perilous positions. They don't want to vote on any kind of - whether it's abortion or other social issues that could put them in a pretty tough spot in the reelection campaigns.

INSKEEP: And this is even Republicans who oppose abortion rights generally. They don't want to bring it up in this bill, which is also about - mainly about weapons, and pay for service members, and funding the military and military operations around the world. It's something that needs to pass. So what does House Speaker Kevin McCarthy want? Is he trying to get this bill through?

SOTOMAYOR: That is exactly what he's trying to do. And he's walking a pretty thin line here as he has often been seen on different issues. But, of course, the NDAA is bipartisan. It's actually one of the very few must-pass pieces of legislation that actually do pass with Democratic and Republican votes. That could be in peril if a number of amendments do get introduced into the underlying bill, which, as you says, focuses a lot more on what the Pentagon can do. Now, of course, this bill is going to change because the Senate is involved here. They are drafting their own version without any of these poison pill amendments.

INSKEEP: Marianna Sotomayor of the Washington Post, thanks so much.

SOTOMAYOR: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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