The Senate passed an $858 billion defense bill that overturned the army's Covid vaccine mandate

Democrats agreed to Republican demands to drop vaccination requirements for service members in order to gain support for the bill

A bill to overturn a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for members of the US military and provide nearly $858 billion for national defense passed the Senate on Thursday and is now being submitted to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The bill provides about $45 billion more for defense programs than Biden requested and roughly 10% more than last year's bill as lawmakers seek to account for inflation and improve the country's military competitiveness with China and Russia. This includes a 4.6% pay increase for servicemen and defense department civilian workers.

The Senate passed the defense policy bill by a vote of 83-11. The measure also received broad bipartisan support in the House last week.

To win GOP support for the 4,408-page bill, Democrats agreed to Republicans' demands to remove the requirement for service members to get Covid-19 vaccinations. The bill directs Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to cancel the August 2021 memorandum that enforced the mandate.

Before approving the measure, the Senate rejected several attempts to reverse it, including a proposal by West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, to speed up the energy project licensing process. The move has faced stiff opposition from some environmental advocacy groups who fear it will accelerate fossil fuel projects such as gas pipelines and limit public input on such projects.

Manchin, who chairs the Senate energy committee, secured a commitment from Biden and Democratic leaders last summer to support a licensing package in return for supporting legislation crucial to curbing climate change.

The Machin Act sets deadlines for completion of reviews of the National Environmental Policy Act for major energy and natural resource projects. This will require the courts to consider litigation involving energy project permits quickly. It also directed federal agencies to allow completion of the natural gas pipeline in its home states and Virginia "without further administrative or judicial delay or obstruction".

“We came close to doing something unbelievable but let me tell you, most of it would be for nothing. Because without allowing reforms, the United States is more law-conscious than any other country in the world,” Manchin told colleagues.

Biden voiced his support for the Manchin bill hours before Thursday's vote. He said too many projects faced delays and described the Manchin amendments "as a way to cut America's energy bill, promote US energy security and enhance our ability to get energy projects built and gridlocked".

Not only did several environmental advocacy groups reject Manchin's proposal, but so did many Republicans. Minority leader Mitch McConnell said it didn't go far enough, calling it "name-only reform".

The amendment falls short of the 60 votes needed for passage, 47-47.

Amendments from senators Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz also lost. That would allow for the reinstatement of service members who were terminated for failing to comply with orders to receive Covid-19 vaccines and compensate them for lost salaries and benefits as a result of the separation.

“The people who serve our military are the best among us. More than 8,000 were discontinued because they refused to get this experimental vaccine, so I urge all my colleagues to support Senator Cruz and my amendment," Johnson said.

But opponents worry about the precedent of rewarding members of the military who disobey orders. Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, chair of the Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee, said an order isn't a suggestion, it's an order.

“What message do we send if we pass this bill? It was very dangerous,” said Reed. “What we say to soldiers is, 'if you don't agree, don't follow orders, and then just lobby Congress, and they will come and they will restore your rank, or restore your profits, or restore everything. '”

The amendment failed, with 40 senators supporting it and 54 against it.

The defense bill sets policy and provides a roadmap for future investment. Lawmakers have to follow up with spending bills to put many provisions into action. This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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