Members of Congress are currently debating whether to end the U.S. military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in this year’s FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Congress typically tries to pass the Pentagon’s annual funding bill prior to the end of the calendar year. The NDAA provides hundreds of billions of dollars annually – this year north of $847 billion – for national defense.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of this year’s NDAA in a 329-101 vote on July 14, 2022.
However, congressional negotiators are set to unveil a compromise version of the bill on Monday of this week, which both the House and Senate will have to approve. According to Politico, the House is likely to vote on the new version of the bill next week.
As a part of the compromise, negotiators are currently hammering out whether to end the vaccine mandate which Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued on August 24, 2021 calling it “necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.”
Additionally, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently met with President Joe Biden to discuss an end to the mandate.
“We will secure lifting that vaccine mandate on our military,” McCarthy said recently. “It will [be lifted]. Otherwise, the bill will not move.”
According to White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton, “Leader McCarthy raised this with the President, and the President told him he would consider it. The Secretary of Defense has recommended retaining the mandate.”
However, the White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that “President Biden is in agreement with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the mandate should remain in place.”
Still, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chair of the House Armed Services Committee, recently told Politico that a repeal is still being considered, though nothing has yet been decided.
“We haven’t resolved it, but it is very fair to say that it’s in discussion,” Rep. Smith said. “At this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having.”
To date, nearly 20,000 healthy U.S. troops have been discharged from the military for their refusal to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
Unfortunately, the military’s vaccine mandate has also been used frequently to discriminate against military members who have religious objections to receiving the shots.
For example, 10,000 troops in the U.S. Air Force alone have requested religious exemptions to the mandate – but just 135 have so far been approved (1.35%), and all of those have been for servicemembers who were already planning to separate from the branch.
At the same time, the Air Force has granted thousands of other exemptions for medical or administrative reasons. It’s this dichotomy – granting exemptions for any reason, as long as it’s not religious – that has many detractors of the mandate up in arms.
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, has been a frequent critic of the mandate. “Because of [the] mandate, ‘hundreds of valuable American service members are being forced out of our military, taking with them years of subject-matter expertise, careers of selfless sacrifice, and lifelong dreams of military service,’” Rep. Roy said earlier this year.
“Forcing these men and women out of the military over [the] mandate ‘is strategically foolish, profoundly un-American, and completely unacceptable,’” the representative added.
Congressmen are also currently debating whether to keep a provision requiring women to register for the draft in this year’s NDAA. You can read the Daily Citizen’s most recent update on that provision here.
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