WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — As Democrats and Republicans spar over this year’s annual defense spending bill, the biggest obstacle is the current COVID-19 vaccine mandate on military service members.
Republicans are threatening to block the bill unless Democrats end the vaccine mandate.
In the House, Democrats announced a deal to repeal the mandate Tuesday afternoon, The Hill reports. In the Senate, the issue remained up for debate.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is among the group of senators pushing to scrap the provision.
“That ought to be your choice,” Cruz said. “So that we stop the Biden administration from firing active duty military if they decline to take the COVID vaccine.”
On Tuesday, Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled he’s making little progress.
“We’re at a pretty significant impasse,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., justified the policy.
“We’re still working on the bill,” Schumer said. “COVID vaccines have saved lives. The military has requirements about other vaccines for decades and there hasn’t been a problem.”
After consulting with the Pentagon, the White House said it supports keeping the requirement, “to keep our service members safe,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
But John Bowes, an Air Force pilot who is one of thousands of military officers who refused to take the vaccine, is urging Democrats to reconsider. He said — while he doesn’t speak for the military — he thinks Congress should not only end the rule, but reinstate service members who were discharged as a result.
“We need to find some way to make this right,” Bowes said. “I’m not fighting this because I want to get out the military, I’m not fighting this because I want to stick it to anybody, I simply just want to continue to do my job and live my dream.”
Lawmakers have until the end of the year to find a solution before current military funding runs out.
Republicans argue the mandate is interfering with military recruitment. On Tuesday, the defense secretary said there is no hard data to support that.