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Reports: 3% troop pay raise at risk over Confederate base names dispute in 2021 defense budget

A sign at one of the entrances to Fort Bragg. (Fish Cop./WikiCommons)
November 23, 2020

A potential pay raise to U.S. military service members in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021 is at risk over a provision calling for the renaming of U.S. military installations named for Confederate military leaders.

The Associated Press reported the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are working to reconcile the differences between their respective versions of the defense bill, but that Trump opposes the measure to rename the military bases and installations and has threatened to veto the bill entirely, which includes a 3-percent pay raise for service members.

Both the Senate and House versions of the NDAA include provisions that would change the names of Confederate-named bases over a three-year period. U.S. bases bearing Confederate names include Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Fort Lee, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Hood, Fort Gordon, Fort Polk, Fort Pickett, Fort Rucker and Camp Beauregard.

“It’s Senate language that we want to agree to,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said. “So there shouldn’t be controversy here.”

The Associated Press reported Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) was strongly backing Trump, but did not say whether Inhofe was backing Trump’s opposition to the base renaming issue.

NBC reported Inhofe said, “Only the president can say whether or not there’s any room for a negotiation.”

In June, Trump tweeted his opposition to renaming the Confederate-named bases and plans to veto the measure.

NBC also reported on Monday that Trump has privately told Republican lawmakers that he won’t relent on the issue of the base names and would veto the NDAA if it included language to proceed with the renaming, indicating he has maintained his position on the base renaming issue.

The New York Times reported White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has hinted in comments to Congress that Trump would drop his opposition to the base renaming issue in exchange for a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which shields the operators of internet services from legal liability for the content that their users post.

Section 230 reform has been seen as one potential avenue by President Trump to limit social media platforms from censoring content they disapprove of. Repealing Section 230 could open those social media platforms to liability for defamatory content that persists on their sites despite their efforts to moderate content, in line with the actions of a publisher exercising editorial discretion over site content. In May, Trump signed an executive order to investigate Section 230 reform and other issues of tech censorship and liability.

The New York Times, reporting on a set of negotiations between Meadows and Smith, said Smith asked Meadows what might persuade Trump to sign the NDAA this year, to which sources for the New York Times said Meadows proposed exchanging Section 230 reforms.

A Democratic congressional aide told The New York Times that trading Section 230 reform for the base renaming provision is a nonstarter.

A Democratic congressional aide also told The Hill, “On its face, there’s issues of jurisdiction, lack of clarity on what the White House actually means when it says repeal Sec. 230, and also it’s unclear if congressional Republicans support this.”

The Democratic aide did tell The Hill that the offer does serve as a sign that President Trump wants to pass the NDAA this year.

Speaking on the issue, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Our bases should reflect our highest ideals as Americans.”