Politico: Let's face it -- GOP rolled progressives on NDAA

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Did they? Or did progressives just outplay themselves? Politico reports that the progressive caucuses “got rolled” by conservatives on defense spending, but the problem appears more to be a combination of bad math and undeserved arrogance.

If that sounds familiar, read on:

Democrats had big plans this year when they took full control of Washington, D.C. — before political reality got in the way. For proof, look no further than this year’s Pentagon policy bill.

The compromise National Defense Authorization Act that lawmakers are poised to send to President Joe Biden as soon as this week includes several wins for conservatives, and more than a few losses for the left. …

Democrats hold power in the House, Senate and White House for the first time in more than a decade, yet the high-profile defense bill got more GOP votes than from Biden’s own party. As progressive lawmakers made their dissatisfaction with the bill’s high price tag clear, centrist Democrats knew they needed Republican support to pass the House and Senate.

That dynamic underscores the disconnect between the sky-high expectations for Democrats and the reality of their ultra-slim majorities in Congress, which have often required them to get buy-in from Republicans in order to approve high-profile legislation.

Democrats drove those sky-high expectations despite knowing full well they’d have to “get buy-in from Republicans.” The Senate’s 50/50 split and the filibuster guaranteed it, and Nancy Pelosi’s three-vote margin in the House made it even more obvious. Instead of grasping that reality, progressives in both chambers instead insisted on maximalist agendas and turf wars with the GOP over collaboration. The only exception to that was the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the minimal goodwill from which progressives squandered by holding it hostage for three months to tie it to the Build Back Better reconciliation project.

Let’s see what Republicans did with the must-pass NDAA and defense policy:

Though the House’s original version required women to register for the draft — a change that had won bipartisan support in both the House and Senate Armed Services committees — the latest version does not. Conservative Republicans got their way on that over a clear majority of their colleagues who see it as both a gender equality issue and a commonsense change for national security.

The original version would also have permitted military commanders to take guns away from servicemembers subject to a military protective order. Those orders are typically issued to keep servicemembers away from another person in suspected cases of domestic abuse. After Republicans protested it as an infringement on Second Amendment rights, the lawmakers negotiating the final product removed the so-called “red flag” provision.

The final version also does not include an amendment by Democrat Anthony G. Brown of Maryland that was approved earlier this year by the House Armed Services Committee. It would have created an Office of Countering Extremism to combat violent ideologies in the ranks. Republicans feared it would prompt witch hunts targeting conservatives. (Brown, a 30-year Army veteran, voted no in protest.)

The bill also retained a Republican-backed provision barring the military services from dishonorably discharging servicemembers for failing to comply with Biden’s mandate that they receive a vaccine against COVID-19.

The GOP also forced Democrats to drop proposals to give Washington DC control of its National Guard and the repeal of Iraq War authorizations. The latter might come up again in a separate, as more than a few Republicans think the AUMF on Iraq should either be amended or repealed at this point. However, that should get its own debate and both parties should work together to craft a coherent alternative and chart American war policy in the Syria-Iraq region rather than stick it into an NDAA as some opaque provision.

Progressives thought they had enough leverage on defense spending to shove this down Republicans’ throats. They turned out to have badly miscalculated, and now it plays out as another humiliation for the Democrats’ base. Now imagine what that means for the BBB reconciliation project — a massive blank check for the progressive Left with no buy-in at all by conservatives. Progressives not only have no leverage for force the GOP to come along, they don’t have any leverage on members of their own party to enable this hobby-horse monstrosity. (We’ll have more in an upcoming post about that.)

Progressives didn’t “get rolled” by the GOP. They managed that faceplant all on their own with their refusal to recognize the math in Congress and their arrogant assumption — along with Joe Biden’s — of having a mandate for radical change.