Catching up on news from last week, Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was the only Iowan in the U.S. House to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, which passed May 26 on a 322 to 96 vote (roll call). While Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02), Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03), Tom Latham (R, IA-04) and Steve King (R, IA-05) all supported the bill's final passage, their votes broke down differently on a number of important amendments the House considered Thursday.
Follow me after the jump for details on those votes and statements some of Iowa's representatives released regarding this bill.
Kate Brannen summarized key points of the bill in this piece for Defense News. The massive $690 billion package includes full funding for Pentagon requests of $553 billion as a base budget and $118 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Measures to reduce the defense budget did not pass, despite growing concern about federal discretionary spending and its contribution to the national deficit.
A Democratic proposal that would return Defense Department spending to 2008 levels, with exemptions for personnel and health accounts, was withdrawn. The House rejected by voice vote a separate proposal that would freeze Department of Defense funding at current levels until the Pentagon successfully passed an audit.
The House bill does make cuts to some weapons programs, but directs those savings back into the Pentagon toward "higher priorities."
The House considered many amendments when the Defense Authorization bill was debated on the floor. The following votes seemed most newsworthy to me.
King was one of only five House members to oppose an amendment barring funds from being used for U.S. ground troops in Libya. All the other Iowans voted for that amendment, which had the support of both parties' House leaders.
An amendment "that would require the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan and require DOD to submit a withdrawal plan to Congress" failed on a 123 to 294 vote. Boswell joined Braley in voting for this amendment; Loebsack joined King and Latham in voting against it.
An amendment that would require the Pentagon to formulate a plan for "accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities" failed by an unexpectedly narrow margin, 204 to 215. Boswell, Loebsack and Braley joined most House Democrats in supporting this amendment, which drew more than two dozen Republican votes. However, Latham and King voted no along with most of the House GOP caucus.
An amendment requiring all foreign terrorist suspects to be tried in military tribunals, not civilian courts, passed 246 to 173. King and Latham voted for this amendment; Braley, Boswell and Loebsack all voted no.
An amendment seeking to remove unprecedented language that would authorize war worldwide, with no expiration date, was rejected on a 187 to 234 vote. Braley, Loebsack and Boswell joined most of the Democratic caucus in voting for this amendment; Latham and King joined most Republicans in voting against it.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the Defense Authorization bill if the final version includes the worldwide war language or restrictions on how Guantanamo prisoners can be tried. The American Civil Liberties Union blog has more on the veto threat.
At this writing I have not seen any press releases from King or Latham on the Defense Authorization Act. Braley did not issue a statement regarding his vote against this bill, but he announced the same day it passed that he is calling for "immediate withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan." I enclose that statement below, as well as a press release from May 27 regarding the Rock Island Arsenal, a major employer in the Quad Cities area.
Press releases from Loebsack and Boswell emphasized provisions they had introduced, which made it into the House-approved defense authorization bill. Scroll down for those statements.
Statement from Representative Bruce Braley, May 26:
Braley Calls for Immediate Withdrawal of U.S. Combat Troops from Afghanistan
Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) released thefollowing statement on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan:
"I believe the time has come for us to begin an immediate withdrawal of our combat troops from Afghanistan - with the goal of having them home by the end of 2011. This isn't a decision I came to lightly, but one that I have struggled with for some time. Our justifications for going into Afghanistan are no longer valid, and meanwhile, the costs - both human and financial - of continuing this war are just too high.
"Earlier this year, I had a chance to travel to Afghanistan and meet with General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry to discuss our progress there. I spoke with commanders on the ground and met with some of our 2,800 Iowa National Guardtroops who are currently stationed in Afghanistan. I've met with too many families who've lost a loved one or seen them come home with missing limbs and other serious injuries. I believe it's time to get as many of our brave men and women in uniform home as quickly as possible."
Statement from Braley's office, May 27 (emphasis in original):
Iowa and Illinois Delegations Seek Substantive Answers from Army on Arsenal
Lawmakers Ask Army for Transparency, Accountability
Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Congressmen Dave Loebsack (D-IA-02) and Congressman Bobby Schilling (R-IL-17) joined Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA-01) in continuing to push for substantive answers to questions surrounding the future of the Rock Island Arsenal from General Ann Dunwoody, Commanding General of the Army Materiel Command (AMC).
Following the letter authored yesterday by Braley and supported by the entire Rock Island region's congressional delegation, the lawmakers today reiterated the need for substantive answers to questions they have raised surrounding the jobs and workload at Rock Island's Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (JMTC); locating the Expeditionary Contracting Command (ECC) in Huntsville, Alabamaaway from the Army Sustainment Command (ASC); efforts to establish capabilities to perform work at Picatinny that has historically been done at Rock Island; and rumors of another round of base closures.
"We are deeply concerned that closing the JMTC is a potential approach being considered... (and) cannot understand how this is a course of action that will provide the needed costsavings. We do, however, understand how it would negatively impact our national security and we find that to be unacceptable," the group wrote to Secretary of the Army John McHugh and General Ann Dunwoody, the Commanding General of the Army Materiel Command that oversees the JMTC's operations.
Statement from Representative Dave Loebsack, May 26:
House Approves Loebsack Provisions in FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act
Provisions will provide Mental Health Care to the National Guard, and will strengthen the Rock Island Arsenal
WASHINGTON, DC- Today, the House of Representatives passed the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 1540. The bill included Congressman Loebsack's legislation to improve mental health care services for our National Guard and Reserve units, and language authored by Loebsack and Congressman Bobby Schilling (R-IL) to strengthen the Rock Island Arsenal.
"This Memorial Day, Iowans will come together to honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom and pay tribute to our troops deployed overseas and our military families here at home. It is critical that we provide our troops and veterans with the best support, resources and care available," said Loebsack. "That is why I worked to ensure the Iowa National Guard has access to high-quality mental health services on active duty and at home, and that we support good-paying jobs for Iowans while improving equipment for our troops.
Congressman Loebsack's legislation, the Embedded Mental Health Providers for Reserves Act of 2011, was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. It will make mental health care available to National Guard and Reserve units at their training sites during drill weekends and annual training, ensuring that they have access to mental health care professionals during duty hours and with full confidentiality. For more information, click here.
The National Defense Authorization Act also includes language authored by Congressman Loebsack and Congressman Bobby Schilling (R-IL) to enable arsenals, including the Rock Island Arsenal, to enter into public private partnerships to produce for the private sector. At no cost to the taxpayer, these public private partnerships will support good paying jobs; promote economic development; and provide Iowa businesses with opportunities to advance their products through collaboration with the Arsenal and access to its state of the art equipment and high quality workforce. They will also help to ensure the future of the Rock Island Arsenal and ensure it can continue to produce critical equipment for our troops. For more information, click here.
Loebsack also successfully included an amendment to support cutting edge research, like that being done at the Quad City Manufacturing Lab, on the next generation of manufacturing materials such as titanium. In addition, he worked to secure improvements for Army National Guard facilities that are used for equipment maintenance and activities central to the readiness of the National Guard to respond to emergencies at home and abroad, and included an amendment to increase the energy efficiency and save taxpayer dollars at industrial facilities like the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant that make critical supplies for our Soldiers.
Statement from Representative Leonard Boswell, May 26:
House Funds Boswell's Armed Forces Breast Cancer Study
Washington, DC - Today, the House passed Congressman Leonard Boswell's amendment to authorize a study into the incidence of breast cancer in U.S. soldiers and veterans, and potential exposure risks, when it passed the National Defense Authorization Act.
"Leading into Memorial Day weekend, I am pleased that we can finally begin to shed light on the unusual incidence of breast cancer in our troops returning home," said Boswell, who first introduced his amendment as a bill in the 111th Congress. "The men and women who serve our nation bravely must trust that their weapons will fire, their armor will shield them, and that when returning home they will have access to the best care. We cannot take care of our soldiers if we do not know whether or not a disease is connected to their service and why. Today is a first step, and if combat is the cause of these breast cancer diagnoses, I will fight even harder to make sure it is recognized as a service-connected disease."
The House passed two other Boswell amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act today. The first would fund substance abuse prevention programs at Defense installations with military commissaries that sell alcohol and tobacco products. The second amendment expresses the Sense of Congress that the Department of Defense should give preferred consideration to contracts that utilize alternative, self-sufficient energy sources that reduce costs.