Leahy Statement On The National Defense Authorization Act Conference Report

The Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, while laudable in its goals, does not comport with reality.  At roughly $700 billion, the proposed base funding in this bill is $85 billion above budget caps that are set in law for fiscal year 2018 in the Budget Control Act (BCA), and $31 billion above the administration’s budget request.  If the authorized funding level were to be appropriated, without changing the caps, it would trigger a 12 percent across-the-board sequester of defense programs to bring spending levels back to the fiscal year 2018 levels contained in the Budget Control Act.   A sequester of this size would hit us in readiness.  It would hamper our day-to-day operations and maintenance.  It would hurt our troops.  Our military leaders do not support such a sequester.

If we really want to support our military, and the men and women in uniform, we must immediately reach a bipartisan budget deal to lift the artificial and unrealistically low budget caps that were set in law in 2011.  It is hard to get every member of this Chamber to agree on anything, but on this we can agree: sequester has had a negative impact on our country that will impact a generation.  We need to have an honest conversation about what the needs of our country are—both in military and domestic spending, and draft our spending bills accordingly. 

I do appreciate the work that Senator McCain and Senator Reed have put into this massive legislation.  While my concerns with the funding levels authorized in this bill prevent me from supporting it, I do believe it reflects a strong commitment to the programs and policies that support our service members and their families.  That must always be our goal.

I am pleased that the conferenced bill maintains support for medical research that matter so much to our service members, and to all Americans who benefit from the lifesaving results made possible through these programs. I am also grateful for the inclusion of language I authored that would pave the way for piloting a preventative mental health program for our National Guard and Reserve. Like physical health, we know that with particular training and mental preparation, a person can be more resilient mentally when faced with challenges, and building that readiness is necessary to maintain the all-volunteer force. Progress is already being made with shifting to a preventative model in the special forces community, I hope to soon see similar progress in developing models for the members of our Guard and Reserve.

This final bill also includes several amendments I proposed to make sure U.S. efforts, especially in Afghanistan, are consistent with U.S. values.  These include a provision aimed at improving the way the Departments of Defense and State provide human rights training to partner forces, and a requirement to establish a plan on how to improve our ability to help foreign governments protect civilians.  The final bill also authorizes establishment of a position in the Department of Defense to oversee its implementation of, and coordination with the Department of State on, the Leahy Law for human rights vetting for Afghan security forces.

In three weeks and one day, the current resolution funding our government will expire. Yet, instead of sitting down with Democrats to work together – just as we did earlier this year to enact the fiscal year 17 omnibus spending bill – to find a path forward to raise the budget caps and fund our government for the rest of the fiscal year, Republicans are focused on a tax cut bill that will add $1.5 trillion to the debt.  Instead of acting responsibly, and in the greatest traditions of the Senate, the majority is marching towards another partisan fight on the floor on a deeply flawed tax bill that will impact every corner of our economy.

Let’s get to work for the American people.  For months I have been calling for a bipartisan budget deal to lift the caps on both sides for both defense and non-defense programs based on parity.  It is time to complete those negotiations. We owe it to the men and women who serve.  We owe it to the American people. 

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