Military Spending, Abortion Rights, and Cluster Bombs

July 13th, 2023 - by The Washington Examiner & & The Washington Times & Common Dreams

House Democrats Say Abortion Restrictions
Are ‘Red Line’ in Pentagon Budget Fight
The Washington Examiner

(July 12, 2023) — House Democrats are not planning on taking a unified stance on the annual defense authorization bill, but party leaders have indicated that proposed amendments to undo Pentagon abortion policies are likely to become a deal breaker for many in the caucus.

The House is aiming to hold a vote on the National Defense Authorization Act by the end of this week, seeking to advance the must-pass legislation ahead of its looming expiration deadline later this year. However, an emerging fight over additional amendments proposed by conservatives has snarled its progress despite the bill historically passing through both chambers of Congress each year without much fanfare or drama.

One disagreement that could derail talks over the NDAA is the recently implemented Pentagon policy that allows service members to take up to three weeks of leave to travel out of state to receive an abortion and other “noncovered reproductive healthcare services.” The policy also states the DOD will reimburse members for any expenses related to that travel.

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) introduced an amendment to overturn that policy, garnering the support of nearly 50 Republican co-sponsors. Should that amendment advance the House and make its way into the full NDAA, it could cause several Democrats to withdraw their support — which could tank the entire measure.

“There’s a number of poison pill policy riders that would be deeply troubling to the House Democratic Caucus,” Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-CA) said. “I think one deeply problematic [rider] for the House Democratic Caucus would be the Tommy Tuberville-type of language restricting women from receiving leave in order to receive healthcare. That one is deeply problematic, and if it was included, I think it would be as close to a red line as I think we’re willing to discuss.”

It’s not clear whether that amendment will advance to the floor because the House Rules Committee has not finalized its markup of the full defense measure. However, GOP leaders have indicated it’s likely to advance because several rank-and-file Republicans have accused the Biden administration of using the Defense Department to push its own agenda.

Democrats have expressed concerns with a number of other measures that could be included in the NDAA, including proposed restrictions on diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, as well as those that seek increased protections for those in the LGBT community.

“Each and every time, Kevin McCarthy decides to listen to the most extreme members of his party who want to have riders that will disrupt the process rather than have a bipartisan process,” Aguilar said.

The most recent iteration of the NDAA, an annual legislative bill that outlines the policy agenda and budget for the Department of Defense, is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. That gives Congress until the end of September to renew its provisions, sending lawmakers into a scramble as they seek to advance legislation before they adjourn for the August recess.

Democrats Inadvertently Admit That They Could
Reduce Military Spending . . . If They Wanted To
David Swanson /

(July 12, 2023) — Democrats in the House of Representatives are threatening to derail the current military spending bill if it includes restrictions on abortion rights. Good for them. Glad to hear it.

But by doing this, they are demonstrating what we might have figured out ourselves all along. If they wanted to reduce military spending instead of jacking it up by additional mountains of cash each and every year, a group of them could threaten to vote No unless it was reduced.

They never do that. They never even try to do that. Not one single lone Democrat ever even says publicly that they should do that.

Last time, a bunch of them withheld their votes until Manchin’s oil deal was removed. A grand total of zero of them proposed that they do the same until the amount of spending was reduced rather than increased.

I wouldn’t object to them claiming they favor military spending reductions, I wouldn’t object to them introducing pointless and hopeless bills and amendments in a show of favoring military spending reductions, if they actually tried to reduce military spending by withholding their votes on every procedural vote on which they might win.

But they won’t do that, will they? Because they care about abortion rights, but they do not care about peace or about anything at all good or useful or lifesaving that might be done with the trillion dollars they are about to dump into the war machine.

Rep. Matt Gaetz Joins Bipartisan Push to Stop
Biden from Sending Cluster Bombs to Ukraine
Alex Miller / The Washington Times

(July 11, 2023) — Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has joined a small number of House Democrats on a measure to block President Biden from sending cluster bombs to Ukraine.

The bipartisan measure is an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act and is one of more than 1,500 add-ons tacked on to the bill since the House Armed Services Committee passed it last month.

The House is expected to consider the NDAA this week after the House Rules Committee pares down the massive list of amendments on Tuesday.

Mr. Gaetz announced Monday on his podcast, “Firebrand with Matt Gaetz,” that he would be the Republican co-sponsor on the amendment.

“These cluster bombs will not end the war in Ukraine and will not build a more stable country,” Mr. Gaetz said on social media. “Children will be left without limbs and without parents because of this decision if we do not work together in a bipartisan fashion to stop it.”

Omar and Jacobs Introduce NDAA Amendment
to Prohibit US Transfer of Cluster Munitions
Jake Johnson / Common Dreams

(July 7, 2023) — Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Sara Jacobs on Thursday introduced an amendment to prohibit the transfer or sale of U.S. cluster munitions as President Joe Biden granted final approval to deliver the widely banned weapons to Ukraine, drawing outrage from human rights organizations and anti-war groups.

Omar (D-Minn.) and Jacobs’ (D-Calif.) amendment to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed out of the House Armed Services Committee last month, states that “no military assistance shall be furnished for cluster munitions, no defense export license for cluster munitions may be issued, and no cluster munitions or cluster munitions technology shall be sold or transferred.”

In a statement Thursday, Jacobs said she opposes and is “alarmed by” the Biden administration’s decision to send U.S. cluster bombs to Ukraine, which has been using the cluster munitions already in its arsenal to fight off Russia’s invasion.

“Cluster munitions keep killing long after their initial use with the potential to injure and kill civilians, especially young children, for generations,” Jacobs said, referring to the fact that cluster bombs often fail to explode on impact, leaving behind what are effectively landmines.

“We’ve already seen these weapons hurt civilians in other post-war contexts like Cambodia and Vietnam,” Jacobs added, “and we should do everything in our power to prevent that suffering, dismemberment, and death.”

Omar echoed that sentiment in comments to Politicosaying that “if the U.S. is going to be a leader on international human rights, we must not participate in human rights abuses.”

“We can support the people of Ukraine in their freedom struggle, while also opposing violations of international law,” said Omar, deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have used cluster munitions in the ongoing war. According to Human Rights Watch, Ukraine “inherited a large stockpile of cluster munitions after the breakup of the Soviet Union” and “reported in 2011 that cluster munitions constituted 35% of its stocks of conventional weapons.”

The Washington Post reported Friday that the main weapon the Biden administration is set to send Ukraine is “an M864 artillery shell first produced in 1987” that “is fired from the 155mm howitzers the United States and other Western countries have provided Ukraine.”

“In its last publicly available estimate, more than 20 years ago, the Pentagon assessed that artillery shell to have a ‘dud’ rate of 6%, meaning that at least four of each of the 72 submunitions each shell carries would remain unexploded across an area of approximately 22,500 square meters—roughly the size of 4½ football fields,” the Post noted.

U.S. law prohibits the transfer of cluster munitions with a dud rate higher than 1%. A Pentagon spokesperson claimed Thursday that the Defense Department “would be carefully selecting rounds with lower dud rates.”

Late last year, nearly a dozen House Democrats including Jacobs and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Biden that the U.S. “should be leading the global effort to rid the world of these weapons, not continuing to stockpile them.”

Urging the White House to join NATO allies in backing the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions, the lawmakers noted that the U.S. last used cluster munitions in Iraq in 2003 and has not exported any of the weapons since 2015.

But the Biden administration appears committed to changing that, a decision that will have the backing of top congressional Republicans who decried Biden’s “reluctance” to send Ukraine cluster munitions earlier this year.

Human rights groups, meanwhile, expressed dismay over the administration’s move, which the Pentagon is expected to formally announce on Friday.

“Today’s decision is beyond disappointing and heartbreaking,” saidBridget Moix, general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “If we are now OK with sending banned munitions into an active warzone, is anything off the table? Can we at some point stop the killing and start talking? That is the only way this war will end.”

“We urge President Joe Biden to reconsider today’s decision,” Moix added.

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