09.18.17

Leahy Statement On Senate Passage Of National Defense Authorization Act

I want to thank Senator McCain and Senator Reed for their leadership in producing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018.  Both veterans, they have a particular understanding of the sacrifices that members of our Armed Services make every day.

Every year, this authorization bill is drafted to reflect our commitment to the men and women serving in uniform, to authorize resources needed to maintain our national security, and to demonstrate the values and principles on which our country was founded.  While I believe this bill reflects many sound defense policies, I regrettably cannot support its passage.

Yet again, this defense authorization bill continues to include the shameful and counterproductive measures that block us from ending the terrorist recruitment tool that is the Guantanamo Bay detention mission.  But the core reason for my opposition to this bill is the reckless price tag its implementation carries.  This bill authorizes $700 billion in defense spending – far above the caps currently established by the Budget Control Act, and far more than the increase requested by the President in his budget proposal.  If we met this authorization with real dollars, sequestration would take effect for defense spending.  Secretary Mattis has testified about the perils of sequestration.  His message was clear: We must raise the budget caps. 

What’s more, this authorization relies on the same tired gimmick we have seen for years, and includes $60 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding.  For fiscal hawks who call for us to reign in federal spending to reduce the deficit, we cannot continue to treat OCO funds as privileged dollars -- outside the scope of our budget caps -- as a means to pay for what should be base spending. 

Further, we cannot unilaterally boost defense spending without similarly addressing other budgets that contribute to our national security.  Earlier this year, in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Secretary Mattis clearly asserted that “history is pretty clear, nations that did not keep their fiscal house in order and their economies strong lost their military power.”  We cannot simply raise spending for the Department of Defense without investing in programs that advance our diplomatic missions overseas and strengthen our domestic security through economic development, infrastructure improvements, environmental protections, and that meet the core needs of all Americans.  Inflating our defense spending at the cost of all other programs makes us neither stronger nor more secure.

I do want to thank Senator McCain and Senator Reed for including, through managers’ packages, more than 100 amendments from both Republicans and Democrats, including some that I filed.  This kind of collaborative process is what has, in the past, yielded results in the Senate.  I regret that the amendment process was not more extensive.  But hyper-partisan amendments that seek to upset the discussions of how to responsibly fund our government are not the way to reach consensus for further votes.

Make no mistake:  This authorization bill invests in our men and women in uniform and their families, and it supports competition to keep our defense industry healthy, as it should.  I hope the reasons for my objection to its passage at this point in the process will be resolved as we move to conference this bill with the House.  And I believe that through an agreement to address the current budget caps, those objections can be resolved.

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