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U.S. Congress includes $300 million for Ukraine, addresses China in massive defense bill

Soldiers of the U.S. and Ukrainian armies attend the opening ceremony of the military exercise “RAPID TRIDENT-2021” at the Ukrainian International Peacekeeping Center near Yavoriv in the Lviv region, Ukraine, September 20, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers included efforts to respond to Russia and China in a consensus version of a massive annual defense bill passed on Tuesday, proposing $300 million for the Ukrainian military and a statement of support to defend Taiwan.

But they overlooked some measures that enjoyed strong support in Congress, including a proposal to impose mandatory sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and a plan to enlist women for the first time.

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes $770 billion in military spending, an increase of $25 billion over President Joe Biden’s request and about 5% more than last year’s budget.

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The bill — the result of intense negotiations between the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans — includes a 2.7% increase in troop pay, more purchases of aircraft and naval vessels, as well as strategies to deal with geopolitical threats.

The national defense law usually passes with strong bipartisan support, and the House of Representatives endorsed the compromise measure at around 363-70 later Tuesday.

The bill is closely watched by a wide cross-section of industry and other interests because of its broad scope and because it is one of the only major pieces of legislation that becomes law each year.

This year’s bill was passed shortly after US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held two hours of virtual talks about Ukraine and other disputes. Read more

It includes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative and $150 million for security cooperation in the Baltic region.

It does not include a provision that would force Biden to impose sanctions on the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline to transport Russian gas directly to Germany. Supporters of the measure argue that the pipeline would be harmful to European allies. Read more

Lawmakers also omitted an amendment that would have prohibited Americans from buying Russian sovereign debt.

Biden’s Democratic colleagues control both the House and Senate. The White House said it supported sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine, but not provisions that could threaten transatlantic relations.

eyes on china

Regarding China, the bill includes the $7.1 billion Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a statement of congressional support for the defense of Taiwan, as well as a ban by the Defense Department to purchase forced-produced products from China’s Xinjiang region.

The United States has described China’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang as genocide, and lawmakers are pressing to ban the import of products made with forced labor from Uyghurs. China rejects the accusation of genocide as a defamatory assertion about conditions in Xinjiang.

The NDAA settlement ignores a proposal to require women to register for military enlistment that was included in previous versions. It faced stiff opposition from social conservatives who believed it would erode traditional gender roles, threatening to derail the entire NDAA.

It includes an overhaul of the military justice system to make decisions about whether to prosecute cases of rape, sexual assault and some other major crimes out of the hands of military commanders.

The change was a partial victory for the activists because it did not strip the military leaders of the power to prosecute all felonies. It came after Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand led a years-long effort to change the system in response to thousands of sexual assault cases among service members, many of which were never prosecuted. Read more

Gillibrand said she still wants a separate vote on her full proposal.

Now that the House has passed it, the NDAA must win Senate support and Biden sign it into law.

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(Reporting by Patricia Gingerly in Washington); Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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