U.S. Republican senators bring defense bill into social spending debate

U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) walks during the second impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2021. Stefani Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Republican U.S. senators on Tuesday called for a Senate vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, saying the nearly $780 billion national security policy bill was delayed by Democrats' focus on issues like social programs and climate change.

The NDAA is closely watched by a broad swath of industry and other interests, as it determines everything from how many ships are bought to soldiers' pay and how to address geopolitical threats.

Lawmakers take pride in the legislation having become law every year since 1961, saying it reflects their support for the military. Because it is one of the only major bills to become law annually, they also use it as a vehicle for legislation on issues from competition with China to cyber policy.

"We are in the most dangerous position we have ever been in terms of what China is doing," Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a news conference blasting Senate Democratic leaders for failing to schedule a vote.

Representative Adam Smith, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters at the Capitol he considered the Senate's failure to pass the bill to date an unfortunate error.

"You can mark me down as extraordinarily frustrated," Smith said.

Spokespeople for Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed did not respond to requests for comment.

President Joe Biden's Democrats have been focused on passing two major bills, one expanding social programs and addressing climate change, and another on strengthening infrastructure.

The House passed its NDAA in September. Once the Senate passes its version, the measure would go to conference to settle differences before a final vote in both chambers.

While this year's Senate vote will be later than usual, the NDAA has survived challenges before. Republican former President Donald Trump vetoed it last December, largely over a provision to strip the name of Confederate generals from military bases.

That veto was overridden in January. read more

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Jonathan Oatis

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