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APR goes “behind the scenes” on the U.S. House floor fight over the new Defense Budget

Visitors walk outside of the U.S Capitol Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Mariam Zuhaib/AP
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AP
Visitors walk outside of the U.S Capitol Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Fireworks on Capitol Hill started long before this Thursday’s Fourth of July holiday. Congress is still working on the new spending plan for the U.S. Military and things got contentious in the House of Representatives. APR news was in Washington, D.C. during a partisan fight over the bill. That was when Republican lawmakers made changes to remove abortion access and diversity. Alabama Democrat Terri Sewell sits on the House Armed Services Committee. She told APR she wants the very best applicants for the military.

“That includes the wonderful diversity that is America. And given the fact that our military is currently having a recruitment issue, we don't need to be isolating and offending certain sectors of the population.”

APR was at the Capitol while debate stretched on for hours over the 2025 Pentagon spending plan. Republican House members like Ralph Norman of South Carolina defended the amendments.

“Woke ideology undermines military readiness in various ways. It undermines the cohesiveness by emphasizing differences based on race, ethnicity and sex,” he said. “It undermines leadership authority by introducing questions about whether a promotion is based on merit or quota requirements. It leads to military personnel serving in specialties and areas for which they are not qualified, nor are they ready, and it takes time and resources away from training activities and weapons development that contribute to readiness.”

Representative Sewell countered during two minutes of comments allowed under House rules.

“Republicans are pushing poison pill amendments into our bipartisan defense bill focusing more on culture wars and division than on our national security,” Sewell said. “This radical amendment would eliminate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices at the Department of Defense and all personnel in those offices, I shouldn't have to remind my Republican colleagues, diversity is our strength as a nation. Inclusion is proven to be beneficial for military effectiveness, military readiness, and ultimately, our national security. Yet my colleagues continue to fight our military leadership as they work to strengthen our armed forces. Forces in the midst of our military recruitment shortfalls, Republicans are focused on the wrong thing. They're busy telling our service members and potential recruits that Congress does not value their background or lived experiences than recruiting the best and brightest to defend our country. This is not only harmful and but it's also hurtful, hurtful that our military recruitment, preparedness and cohesiveness is is at jeopardy and at stake. Our national security and our national defense deserves better again this year. I'm disappointed that we are considering amendments that poison legislation which would otherwise be bipartisan.”

The House passed its version last Friday. Sewell sits on the House Armed Services Committee. She says the Military is having recruitment problems, so all applicants should be welcome…

“You know, diversity is our strength, and so the attacks on being woke in the military and attacks against diversity, equity, inclusion, are just vicious and not helpful,” Sewell told APR.

With both Senate and House lawmakers advancing legislation that aligns with President Joe Biden’s 2% federal pay raise request, civilian federal employees appear to be a step closer to a smaller pay bump for 2025.

Another issue is pay raises for members of the military. Federal Defense News Network reports the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the spending plan showed support for a 2% raise for military civilian workers and a 4.5% raise for servicemen and women. The U.S. Senate is still working on its version of the military budget. Once that’s done, both chambers will meet to discuss a compromise

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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