(The Center Square) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $849 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Thursday night after the House Freedom Caucus urged Republicans not to vote for it.
A 329-101 vote passed the fiscal 2023 bill after hundreds of amendments were considered and members engaged in hours of debate.
“As the legislative process continues, I thank my House colleagues for their thoughtful contributions and support of this year’s NDAA. There’s a lot to be proud of in this bill, and the stakes for our country’s national security could not be higher,” the bill’s sponsor, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a news release.
Those who voted for it, 180 Democrats and 149 Republicans, effectively fired potentially hundreds of thousands of service members who won’t take the COVID-19 vaccines and are being discharged unless they have protections recently issued by courts, the House Freedom Caucus argues.
Only 39 Democrats and 62 Republicans voted against it.
The timing comes after the U.S. Army announced that more than 60,000 National Guard and Reserve service members have been cut off from pay and benefits as of July 1. According to the Pentagon, nearly 270,000 active duty service members, or 13% of the total force, are not fully vaccinated.
But the total number expected to be cut off branch-wide is closer to 500,000, Thomas Renz, an attorney representing military whistleblowers, told The Center Square.
In his directive issued last August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin argued that requiring all active-duty members and civilian employees to take the Emergency Use Authorization drugs was necessary for military readiness. The mandate came when the U.S. military is struggling to meet recruitment goals.
Military service members were required to take the vaccine or be discharged, pay back scholarships, education, or other training costs, be disciplined, or even face court martial. Several groups sued on behalf of service members, contractors, and personnel after all four military branches refused to grant religious exemption requests. So far, federal judges are ruling in favor of military plaintiffs.
“The bill does nothing to address the president’s COVID-19 mandates, which are forcing thousands of our best, bravest, and highly trained … service members out of the military,” the House Freedom Caucus argued. “It also fails to end the radical Left’s contamination of our military with ‘woke’ ideology, the prioritization of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ over combat readiness, or the wasteful allocation of funds on politically motivated ‘Green New Deal’ climate initiatives.”
They argue that it also doesn’t secure America’s borders or ensure oversight of “the vast amount of taxpayer dollars spent on protecting the borders of other nations.”
Of the many amendments rejected was one proposed by U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., that would have allowed National Guard and Reserve service members to participate in paid training and education programs regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.
“Our National Guard and Reserve troops are the backbones of our national security. They shouldn’t be denied paid training or education programs for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine,” Green said.
Another was proposed by U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, prohibiting federal funds “to require any member of the Armed Forces to get the COVID shot.” He also introduced a stand-alone bill with 69 cosponsors that would have prohibited “any requirement that a member of the Armed Forces receives a vaccination against COVID-19.”
Renz says that “according to a leaked document we received from a military whistleblower,” the real number of troops that aren’t fully vaccinated as of Jan. 12, 2022, totals over 500,000, “or nearly 25% of our military (approximately 440,000 were reservists).”
“Does the Biden Pentagon plan to kick out a quarter of our military while recruitment levels are a disaster, or do they expect us to believe that 440,000+ soldiers just decided to comply since that date?” he asked.
The Pentagon has not responded to requests for comment.
Renz has been working with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and others, demanding accountability and transparency from the federal government, and expressing concerns about the vaccine’s adverse effects being reported among military service members and personnel. He’s published data, testimony, and report findings available to the public on his website.
The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden. It includes a 4.6% pay raise for service members and civilian personnel, relief for housing and other expenses, and a supplementary 2.4% “inflation bonus” for lower-income military personnel and civilians.
It also authorized an additional $1 billion in military aid for Ukraine.