Biggest Military Pay Raise in 20 Years Heads to Biden's Desk for Signature as Part of Annual Defense Bill

soldiers stack simulated currency after moving their operation
From left to right, Capt. Cynjun Salinas, Lt. Col. Luke Ahn and Spc. Saralin Moon, 326th Financial Management Support Center soldiers, stack simulated currency after moving their operation in less than two hours during Diamond Saber at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Aug. 14, 2021. (Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner/U.S. Army)

The sweeping defense policy bill that locks in a 5.2% pay raise for service members next year is on its way to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

The House approved the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, in a 310-118 vote on Thursday. That followed the Senate's 87-13 approval of the bill the evening before.

Biden is expected to sign the bill before the end of the year, with the White House saying in a statement earlier this week that the legislation "provides the critical authorities we need to build the military required to deter future conflicts while supporting the service members and their spouses and families who carry out that mission every day."

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Beyond endorsing the largest pay raise for troops in two decades, this year's NDAA steps on several culture war land mines -- while avoiding some of the biggest ones.

After months of negotiations between House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, the bill that passed Congress dropped House GOP-drafted provisions that would have blocked the Pentagon's existing policies of covering travel for troops seeking abortions and gender-affirmation care for transgender service members.

Republicans notched some wins in the final bill on their efforts to curb Pentagon diversity programs. Namely, the bill freezes hiring for Pentagon jobs focused on diversity initiatives, caps pay for civilian diversity employees, and bans promoting "critical race theory," which the bill defines as the theory that people of certain races "bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past" by those of the same race.

While ultra-conservative House Republicans complained that the anti-abortion and anti-transgender provisions were taken out of the final bill, they could not stop the bill from passing. House Republican leadership brought the NDAA to the floor under a procedural mechanism that meant the bill needed at least two-thirds support to pass but that prevented far-right lawmakers from blocking the measure.

Ultimately, more House Democrats supported the final bill than Republicans, a turnaround from the version of the bill the House passed in July that Democrats rejected en masse because of the anti-abortion and anti-transgender provisions. On Thursday, 163 Democrats voted for the bill, compared to 147 Republicans.

The bill also faced some procedural hiccups in the Senate even though it passed with a wide bipartisan majority. Most prominently, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., forced a couple of procedural votes to express his anger that an expansion of a radiation exposure compensation fund was left out of the compromise bill. The original Senate-passed language would have granted benefits for the first time to those affected by nuclear waste dumping in St. Louis, as well as the Trinity nuclear test in New Mexico.

Related: Pentagon Abortion, Transgender Policies Safe, But Diversity Programs Take a Hit in Compromise Defense Bill

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