Congress Passed a $858 Billion Military Bill. Here’s What’s in It.

The legislation gained momentum after the son of Judge Esther Salas was shot and killed at her home in New Brunswick, N.J. by a lawyer who had come looking for her and also shot her husband. “Judges, and their families, should not live in fear for doing the job they are sworn to do,” Judge Salas said in a statement on Friday.

Democrats attached a package of ocean conservation provisions, including a ban on owning or selling shark fins in the United States; an increase in funding for research and restoration of coral reefs; an increase in oversight of imported seafood; and an expansion of programs that monitor, research and map the oceans and Great Lakes.

The oceans package also expands the use of technology to monitor marine mammals to help prevent them from colliding with boats, legislation that is aimed in particular at preserving North Atlantic right whales, of which there are only 340 left in the world.

The legislation makes it easier for active duty families to qualify for the basic needs allowance, a stipend designed to target food and housing insecurity for the most at-risk service members. Nearly one in four active duty service members experienced food insecurity at some point in 2020, according to a report released this year by the Department of Defense.

After an investigative series by The New York Times into civilian deaths from American airstrikes, the Pentagon in August announced sweeping changes aimed at reducing risks to civilians in U.S. military operations. Congress has pushed Pentagon officials to go even further, and lawmakers included in the military bill $25 million to fund the staffing and other expenses of operationalizing those changes.

The bill requires greater specificity regarding the geographic location of strikes resulting in civilian casualties in annual reporting to Congress. And it extends the Defense Department’s authority to access congressionally approved funding to make condolence payments for civilians and their families inadvertently injured or killed in U.S. military operations, after it made zero such payments in 2020.

Fears of rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific, paired with the fact that many senior members of Congress who sit on the national security committees hail from areas dependent on shipyards, resulted in another year of a boosted shipbuilding budget. Lawmakers authorized the procurement of 11 battle force ships and reversed plans for the early retirement of 12 vessels in the coming year.

The Navy’s budget request sought to decommission 24 ships and build eight.

Coral Davenport contributed reporting.

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