The House voted Thursday against banning the Pentagon from providing transition-related medical care to transgender troops.
The body rejected the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on a 209-214 largely party-line vote.
The amendment outraged Democrats, who called it ignorant, mean-spirited and denigrating, while Republicans argued the Pentagon should not be spending its money on such medical care.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s (R-Mo.) amendment would have barred Pentagon funding from going to any transition-related medical care, except for mental health services.
Hartzler claimed the cost of surgeries alone could reach $1.3 billion over the next 10 years.
“This is about addressing [North] Korea, Russia, ISIS,” Hartzler said, holding up pictures of each. “We need every defense dollar to go to meeting those threats, not anything else, and we need to make sure our troops are ready and can be deployed.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) added the opposition to the amendment was “silly” and said people should “figure out if you’re a man or a woman before you join up.”
The RAND Corporation last year found all medical costs for transgender service members would be about $2.4 million to $8.4 million annually.
Democrats argued the true intent of the amendment was to discriminate against transgender troops, as not being able to receive medical care would effectively prevent transgender people from being able to serve in the military.
Even if the service members themselves aren’t transgender, immediate family members who are would not be able to get the care they need, making it untenable for their spouse or relative to serve in the military, Democrats said.
“Make no mistake, the effect and the intent of this unjust and mean-spirited amendment is to ban patriotic Americans from serving our country,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “It is designed to throw transgender service members out of the military.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said the amendment was based on “ignorance of what transgender truly is.”
This is the second year in a row the NDAA has been caught up in LGBT issues. Last year, a provision was added in the House Armed Services Committee that Democrats contended would have allowed federal contractors to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
When Democrats could not successfully remove the provision when the bill came to the House floor, they largely voted against the NDAA. But the provision was eventually stripped out of the bill during House-Senate negotiations, leading to bipartisan final passage.