Vote Explanation for the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act
I start with the goal of supporting the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). At its best, the defense bill will provide clear direction, certainty, and dependability for our armed services. I believe this is one of the most important responsibilities Congress has, and that’s reflected in the fact that the NDAA has passed successfully for the last 53 years.
And while there are literally thousands of provisions in the bill, any number of which are going to be noxious to some members of Congress, it’s understood by the bill’s supporters that the greater good outweighs some of its unfortunate compromises. That was how I saw things last year when I voted for the NDAA.
This year, however, the compromises within the bill threatened to compromise my values and those of the people I represent and I could not support it.
For example: this year’s NDAA includes an amendment to affirmatively allow for taxpayer-funded discrimination of members of the LGBT community. Under it, contractors would be able to claim a religious exemption from current nondiscrimination standards.
This bill also includes a budget gimmick that will cause our overseas military operations to run out of funding halfway through the fiscal year, thereby removing the certainty that our commanders and service members should be able to depend on while deployed in harm’s way. Money that should go to support our service members is instead spent on weapons systems that the Pentagon has not even requested.
This year also marks the expiration of our failed ‘train and equip’ policy in Syria. Instead of proceeding with a new stand-alone authorization, debated in Congress under the full scrutiny of the American public, the NDAA quietly reauthorizes Syrian train and equip, further committing us (and the now 300 U.S. service members in Syria) to a strategy that has not been properly vetted, debated and approved by Congress.
There are several positive provisions which made voting ‘no’ difficult. Those included one I offered requiring a detailed strategy to ensure we don’t see a future iteration of the Islamic State should we defeat them militarily in Iraq and Syria. I also worked to require a reassessment of the deployment tempo for our air defense units, which will directly impact soldiers and families at Fort Bliss.
The bill passed the House. I am hopeful that as the Senate and the House work out the differences between the two versions of this bill that we keep the good, lose the bad and produce a conference bill that I can support. I will do my best to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make that happen.