Here’s what’s in the $886 billion defense bill

By Tami Luhby | CNN

The House and Senate have approved a $886.3 billion defense policy bill, which would provide the largest raise for service members in more than two decades, temporarily extend a controversial surveillance program and strengthen the US posture in the Indo-Pacific region to deter Chinese actions.

The nearly 3,100-page National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024 now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. The package authorizes $28 billion, or about 3%, more than the previous fiscal year.

The legislation outlines the policy agenda for the Department of Defense and the US military and authorizes spending in line with the Pentagon’s priorities. But it does not appropriate the funding itself.

Also notable, the joint package does not include two controversial provisions related to abortion and transgender health care access, which were in the House defense policy bill that passed this summer. The House version would have prohibited the secretary of defense from paying for or reimbursing expenses relating to abortion services. It also would have barred a health care program for service members from covering hormone treatments for transgender individuals and gender confirmation surgeries.

But the final version of the bill does include multiple measures aimed at “ending wokeness in the military,” according to a summary provided by the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee.

Funding for a separate $105 billion national security package that would provide more assistance to Israel and Ukraine continues to be a point of contention in Congress, with Senate Republicans insisting that more foreign aid be paired with major border security policy changes. While there have been talks to try to find consensus, no bipartisan deal has been reached.

The defense authorization bill would extend the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative through the end of 2026 and authorize $300 million for the program in the current fiscal year and the next one. The program provides funding for the federal government to pay industry to produce weapons and security assistance to send to Ukraine, rather than drawing directly from current US stockpiles of weapons.

Here are some key provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, according to summaries provided by the House and the Democratic-led Senate Armed Services committees:

Support for service members and their families

The package contains several measures to improve service members’ wages and benefits in hopes of aiding in recruitment and retention.

It would provide a 5.2% boost in service member basic pay and authorize a monthly bonus for junior enlisted members. The bill would also adjust the Basic Allowance for Housing calculation to boost reimbursement for junior enlisted service members so they could better afford rising rents. And it would expand the Basic Needs Allowance to help low-income service members with families.

The bill would also authorize $38 million over the budget request for new family housing and $356 million over the budget request to renovate and build new barracks.

To help military spouses, it would expand their reimbursements for relicensing or business costs and help those working for the federal government keep their jobs by allowing them to telework when service members transfer locations.

And the legislation would reduce child care expenses for military families and authorize $153 million over the budget request for the construction of new child care centers.

Plus, it would authorize the Department of Defense to fund – and Armed Services members to participate in – clinical trials using psychedelic substances and cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.

Warrantless surveillance of foreign nationals

The bill includes a short-term extension of a controversial law that permits warrantless surveillance of foreign nationals, extending authority for the program through April 19.

The law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enables the US government to obtain intelligence by collecting communications records of non-Americans overseas who are using US-based communications services.

Supporters argue Section 702 is a critical tool for safeguarding national security, but it has come under scrutiny from some lawmakers over alleged misuse.

Focus on Indo-Pacific region

To counter Chinese aggression, the package would authorize $14.7 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and extend it through fiscal year 2024. And it would establish a training, advising and institutional capacity-building program for the military forces of Taiwan.

It would enable the implementation of the AUKUS agreement between the US, United Kingdom and Australia and authorize the eventual sale of nuclear-capable submarines to Australia. The bill would also establish the Indo-Pacific Campaigning Initiative, which would facilitate an increase in the frequency and scale of exercises conducted by the US Indo-Pacific Command, among other efforts.

‘Ending wokeness in the military’