House votes to strip defense secretary of salary as right wing flexes muscles
By Catie Edmondson
The Republican-led House voted earlier this week to reduce the salary of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to $1 as right-wing lawmakers tried to transform a Pentagon spending bill and a series of other funding measures into weapons to take aim at President Joe Biden, his agenda and his top officials.
There is little chance that Austin, the first Black defense secretary, will actually see his pay cut. The military spending bill is all but certain to die in the Senate, where it is expected to meet with bipartisan opposition.
But the move to strip him of all but $1 of his $235,600 salary, proposed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., reflected the intensity of the right-wing drive to make the military into a political issue.
Three days before a government shutdown, House Republican leaders spent Wednesday adding the salary cut — and a slew of other far-right proposals to handcuff the Biden administration — to spending bills that have little chance of enactment. It was akin to a legislative tantrum driven by the hard right, whose members are helping push Congress toward a spending crisis.
The Pentagon funding bill, along with three other spending bills House Republican leaders are advancing this week, already was doomed in the Senate and had no chance of becoming law. The additions are likely to make passing those bills even more difficult, and come at a time when more mainstream members of the Republican conference are already fuming about arch-conservative policy prescriptions that have been tacked on to the spending bills.
The House also voted Wednesday to ban the Pentagon from implementing Biden’s climate change-related executive orders or requiring service members to receive the coronavirus vaccine. And it stripped funding for the Pentagon’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The measures were passed by voice vote, meaning that lawmakers did not take recorded votes to register their positions individually.
Greene took a victory lap after the passage of her amendment, blaming the defense secretary for “the horrific Afghanistan withdrawal,” dwindling recruitment numbers and “the firing of thousands of troops for refusing the COVID vaccine.”
“Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defense of the United States, definitely deserves to be fired,” Greene said. “$1 is too much.”
Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokesperson, responded that Austin “is focused on leading the Department of Defense and ensuring our service members worldwide have the resources and support the U.S. military needs to conduct our mission to defend the nation.”
In an effort to appease the ultraconservative flank of the party, top House Republicans had already loaded up this year’s spending bills with a series of partisan policy mandates aimed at amplifying political battles on social issues. Lawmakers on the subcommittee that funds the Food and Drug Administration, for example, included a provision that would effectively prohibit access to abortion medication by mail, a practice that is still legal in most states.
Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., who is expected to face a tough reelection race next year in a district that voted for Biden in 2020, said he would still support the Pentagon funding bill.
“I just would say it’s not the kind of thing that I embrace,” Molinaro said of stripping Austin of his salary.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, accused Republicans of trying use the specter of a shutdown “to jam your right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.”
“This week is very revealing, because we’re considering bills, including the one that is before us right now, that have zero chance of becoming law,” Jeffries said. “And they’re filled with extreme policy poison pills.”