This Year’s National Defense Authorization Act

12/2/2016

The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes the national defense programs on which we will spend more than half this country’s discretionary budget, as well as the policies our military service members and civilians must follow. It is so complex and the military activities that it authorizes are so massive that it has taken the full calendar year of 2016 for Congress to finish.

This year’s NDAA includes a lot of things I wrote, supported or fought for as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and led me to ultimately support its passage. For example, knowing the current and emerging threats that we face around the world — a resurgent Russia, a territorially ambitious China, a provocative North Korea, or a state sponsor of terror in Iran — as well as being mindful of the wars we currently fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — I joined my colleagues to successfully arrest declining troop levels for our active duty Army.

This year’s bill will maintain our Army at 476,000 soldiers instead of the previously planned 460,000. Put another way — I don’t agree with all of our policies in much of the world at which we find ourselves at war, but I want to make sure that we have the resources to support our service members and make sure that they are ready for the fights to which we’ve committed them or may commit them in the future.

The need to compensate our service members and their families, including at Fort Bliss, is also incredibly important. So I was encouraged by the bill’s 2.1% pay raise — the largest in five years.

But if there was one thing that gave me pause it was this: once again in this NDAA, Congress is authorizing the mission to train and equip rebels in Syria, a mission that has so far been an incredible failure. I opposed this measure when it was considered by the full Congress two years ago, and voted against its inclusion in this year’s bill in committee after we saw that the groups we spent millions training have been all but decimated.

Unfortunately, my colleagues chose to continue this program. In response, I authored a portion of this bill that requires the Department of Defense and Department of State to explain how their current plan will lead to peace and stability in the region, and more importantly the conditions we must help achieve to ensure we don’t see a new group fill ISIS’ void if and when it’s destroyed.

That being said, the push and pull of the legislative process and bill writing allows for some positive things to happen too. For example, we were able to remove a provision of the bill which allowed contractors doing work with the military to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. This provision was one of the most important reasons I opposed the bill on the House floor months ago.

The conference process also resulted in the inclusion of an expanded Magnitsky Act that was not in previous versions of the bill. This language will allow the President to impose economic sanctions on individuals who commit human rights abuses around the world.

This bill is a mixed bag and imperfect, inherent in anything of this size. But I felt it most important to support our service members and lock in the gains contained in the bill, despite its flaws. And the aspects of our overall foreign and defense policy that I find most troubling — such as a 15-year old Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which allows us to wage war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and now Somalia — must be addressed by the full Congress in language that is explicitly focused on what are essentially undeclared, unconstitutional and — because we don’t take the time to debate or even acknowledge them — unconscious wars.

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