Republicans cheered the apparent passage of a massive $860 billion defense spending bill this week, as Democrats surrendered on President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military personnel.
Among them was Rep. Matt Gaetz. As The Free Press has reported, Gaetz was among the cadre of GOP lawmakers who demanded that Biden not only end the mandate but reinstate the thousands of troops who had been discharged for refusing it.
Gaetz did not get that, but the 4,400-page bill was loaded with other items he sought, including the provision that the coronavirus mandate will end within 30 days of the bill’s signing.
According to a press release from the Fort Walton Beach Republican’s office, the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, will direct $779 million to military projects and needs in Northwest Florida.
- $55 million for the Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range, which under the NDAA will see modernized test instruments and infrastructure to facilitate hypersonic weapons testing. Gaetz noted this will help the Department of Defense’s close the “capabilities gap” with China and Russia on these new weapons.
- The Naval Air Station Whiting Field, where the Navy trains its helicopter pilots, will soon get new, state-of-the-art TH-73A training helicopters. Gaetz secured $141.5 million for construction of new helicopter hangars and another $57 million for an advanced helicopter-flight simulator facility.
- Firms in Fort Walton Beach and Crestview will benefit from $216 million targeted at producing three new CH-47 cargo helicopters.
- The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Munitions Directorate on Eglin Air Force Base got $10 million, courtesy of Gaetz, for developing digital engineering testing solutions for advanced weaponry.
- Lastly, troops who struggle “under the weight of Joe Biden’s crippling inflation,” said Gaetz, will benefit from a 4.6% raise, expanded eligibility for the military’s Basic Needs Allowance, and $250 million aimed at reducing the cost of groceries at the commissary.
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In a statement, Gaetz noted, “Congress is duty bound by the Constitution to ensure the brave men and women that volunteer to defend our country have everything they need to be most lethal fighting force in the history of the world. I applaud the passage of the FY23 NDAA, which makes America stronger and further solidifies Northwest Florida’s critical role in our country’s national security.”
The outcome of those projects depends on the negotiation of the final NDAA in the Senate.