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What to know about the $768 billion defense policy bill that's heading to the Senate


It seems U.S. lawmakers agree on one thing - spending lots of money on the military, some $768 billion. The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, passed last night and is headed towards the Senate. Joining us now is Connor O'Brien, a defense reporter for Politico.

Welcome to the program.

CONNOR O'BRIEN: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Tell us about the legislation's focus on Russia and China.

O'BRIEN: Well, this has been a particular focus of the Pentagon trying to, after 20 years of war in Afghanistan and the Middle East, to reorient and match kind of the military modernization that we've seen coming out of Russia and China. It was the focus of the National Defense Strategy that was issued under the Trump administration and continues under the Biden administration, though - and is pretty popular on Capitol Hill. So what you saw in this defense bill was a focus on Russia and China. Congress a couple of years ago created this - what's called the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to reorient the military to the Pacific and build up posture there and deter China. They put $7 billion into that, a couple billion more than the Biden administration requested, on Russia with the threat to Ukraine. They approved $300 million to arm Ukraine, about 50 million more than the administration requested, so there are a number of things to that effect. It's a major theme of this legislation.

CORNISH: Money for new technologies?

O'BRIEN: That's another area of emphasis for the Pentagon and for lawmakers. I think a big thing that you saw in this bill was providing funding for research and development for emerging technologies, emphasis on things like AI and hypersonic missiles that are being developed by Russia and China. And to allow for that investment, you saw a willingness from Congress to allow the Pentagon to retire a lot of older weapons. There were some of those parochial battles over, you know, over some of these - what they call legacy weapons, planes, ships, where Congress did kind of override the Pentagon. But you did see some willingness to let them move forward with that and to reinvest that.

CORNISH: You called dropping women out of the draft a stunning reversal. Why?

O'BRIEN: Well, that was - the provision that was proposed to expand selective service to require women to register for a draft was in both the House and Senate defense bills. And normally, when something is in both bills, it's typically a pretty good indicator of bipartisan support, which it did have, and that it would be in a final compromise bill. So when we found out that it was was going to be out of the final agreement, that was quite surprising. It was a victory for conservatives like Josh Hawley, Jim Inhofe, who pushed to get that out of there, really played hardball and was indicative of some of the wins that Republicans got in this bill.

CORNISH: That's Connor O'Brien, defense reporter for Politico. Thank you for your time.

O'BRIEN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.