The Pentagon building

The Pentagon building Credit: Digital Vision/iStock

Despite all the year-end drama over massive federal spending programs, a sprawling defense bill on Wednesday easily won final congressional approval.

The usual narrative of partisan polarization and internal infighting vaporized again when it came to the Pentagon. Lawmakers even added $24 billion to the flatline military budget President Joe Biden requested in the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Never mind that a sloppy attempt at a domestic insurrection in support of a defeated president less than a year ago continues to strain our major-party duopoly. In this case, Democrats and Republicans closed ranks to keep the defense budget more impenetrable than the Capitol itself.

That way, they showed unity when they saw fit. The vote was a lopsided 88-11 in the Senate. Last week, the House gave the same beefed-up NDAA its approval by a landslide, 363-70.

Yet this same spirit of solidarity seems to elude politicians on the immediate COVID-19 crisis.

The NDAA, while always treated as routine, got a special fast-track process this time out. Usually, both houses separately consider amendments; this year it was one big bill, all the way through — a remarkable act with minimal dissent.

Dropped from the measure was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s widely-supported signature push to revamp the military justice system. The NDAA does make some changes in the system regarding instances of sexual abuse in the armed forces, but not with the level of nonmilitary involvement in prosecutions that Gillibrand's measure would demand.

Other proposed reforms were also jettisoned for consideration some other day, clearing the path for this rare rapid agreement.

A special commission had called for women to begin registering with the selective service, arguing this would boost both equity and national preparedness. That didn’t make the final version, either.

Some lawmakers formed a coalition across the aisle to repeal the 2002 law authorizing the Iraq invasion, which subsequent administrations have used to cover other military actions; that, too, was bypassed.

Questions over misguided U.S. drone killings? Not on this occasion.

Separate from the NDAA, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) became ad hoc allies from across the political spectrum on a move to block a $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Last week, their effort fizzled. Even Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had voted with supporters of the bill who didn’t want to reward the kingdom for its continuing war in Yemen.

But Biden wanted the Saudi sales, and got it, marking one of several U.S. foreign-policy positions he directly inherited from Donald Trump's term and didn’t ditch.

Compare the treatment of the $768 billion defense bill to the overwrought drama over legislation to fund roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure in the recent bill that advanced projects of broad civic interest in red and blue states.

Think of the internal GOP angst prompted by support for the $1.85 trillion bill by Republican Reps. Andrew Garbarino of Suffolk and Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island. Think, too, of the internal Democratic theatrics over "No" votes by left-wing Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York City.

Compare the quick consensus on defense spending to the way Democratic Senate conservatives Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have stalled their party on tax changes.

Military appropriations are held harmless from dissection — even with our longest war, in Afghanistan, now ended.

Maybe it just tells us that funding bridges and trains is controversial in the U.S., but financing advanced weapons systems is not.

Now, there's a big topic worth debating.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.