Catching up on Iowa Congressional news, on May 15 the U.S. House approved a $612 billion Defense Authorization bill for fiscal year 2016 by 269 votes to 151 (roll call). Not surprisingly, all four Iowans supported the bill on final passage. Votes on several amendments were the most interesting part of the process, as was the case during House debate of the first two spending bills to clear the lower chamber this year.
Follow me after the jump for details on last week's defense-related votes by Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04), and Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Notably, King and his allies removed language that would have allowed military service by some undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. The House approved some other amendments by voice vote; click here for brief descriptions.
Martin Matishak and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill on the key provisions in the defense spending bill:
The bill keeps ceilings on defense spending in place under the 2011 budget deal that introduced sequestration spending limits, but would increase funding to the Pentagon's war fund.
The legislation authorizes roughly $523 billion in base Defense Department spending. Another $90 billion is included in the war fund, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.
It includes $38 billion more for the war fund than had been requested by the White House. The extra spending is not offset by spending cuts or tax hikes.
The White House also opposes language in the bill meant to prevent the closing of Guantanamo Bay.
Allocating more than $90 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations fund was one of the most contentious issues during House debate over the federal budget blueprint in March. At that time, Iowa's representatives split along party lines over whether to spend an additional $38 billion on the war fund without any spending cuts or revenue increases to offset the expense. Worth remembering next time you see Blum, Young, and King posturing as deficit hawks.
True deficit hawks are thin on the ground when Congress debates military spending, partly because defense contractors employ workers in so many House districts, and partly because no politician wants to be accused of not supporting the troops sufficiently. The first amendment to come to a roll-call vote during last week's debate over the defense spending bill would have reduced "from 11 to 10 the statutory requirement for the number of operational carriers that the U.S. Navy must have." Just four Republicans and 56 Democrats supported that amendment, which would not have cut spending immediately but would have created the possibility of future savings on aircraft carriers. Blum, Loebsack, Young, and King all voted against the proposal.
The next amendment was among the most closely-watched during the floor debate. An Alabama Republican proposed removing language from the defense authorization bill that would create space for undocumented immigrants covered under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to enlist in the military. GOP hard-liners on immigration were outraged when that provision made it into the bill, as King expressed in this April 30 press release:
Washington, D.C. - Congressman Steve King released the following statement after the House Armed Services Committee accepted an amnesty amendment during the markup of H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):
"I was disappointed to see that the House Armed Services Committee accepted an amnesty amendment during markup of H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)," said King. "The amendment encourages the Secretary of Defense to find ways to enlist illegal immigrants granted amnesty under the President's illegal and unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) into the armed services. This policy would provide a fast track to citizenship for those accepted into a program Congress has voted to defund three times.
The House of Representatives first voted to defund DACA with my amendment on June 5, 2013. That vote was followed by two more defund votes in August 2014 and January 2015. It is incomprehensible that any House Committee would encourage using DACA to expand the President's amnesty agenda further. It is even more disappointing as the NDAA is a bill designed to keep this nation safe from its enemies at a time of war, not about granting citizenship to illegal immigrants. It is the wrong policy on the wrong bill at the worst time. This will bring about a major fight among those of us who have given our oath to support and defend the Constitution and mean it and those who simply gave their oath. This is a dark day both for those that defend the Rule of Law and those that seek to keep the United States safe."
King had said he would vote against the defense authorization bill if the language on those covered by DACA stayed in the bill.
He didn't need to make good on that threat, because the Brooks amendment passed with just a few votes to spare by 221 votes to 202. Blum, Young, and King all helped approve the amendment. Twenty House Republicans joined all the Democrats present, including Loebsack, to oppose the amendment. One of them argued on the House floor,
"Let the young men and women who were brought here as children, through no fault of their own, serve their country. Let them serve the country that educated them. Let them serve the country they love," [Colorado Republican Mike Coffman] said.
"Their ability to serve benefits us all. It provides an expanded pool of willing and capable applicants, helping to uphold and even increase the rigorous standards to enlist in our military," he said. [...]
"DREAMers should be a part of that pool," he said. "If DREAMers want to put their life on the line for this country, we should give them the opportunity and honor their willingness to serve."
I'd like to hear Young and Blum respond to that point, and I hope Iowans will ask them to defend this vote. (King's a lost cause, given his long record of hostility to any accommodation for DREAMers.)
King and his allies were unable to slam the door on Pentagon officials studying the implications of military service by DREAMers, though. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,
Another provision of the NDAA authored by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) would have directed the secretary of Defense to review how allowing DACA recipients to serve in the military would impact the pool of potential recruits and military readiness. The secretary of Defense would then brief members of the House Armed Services Committee on the evaluation's results.
That provision remains in the bill, as the House Rules Committee did not allow a vote on an amendment to eliminate the Veasey language. [...]
Meanwhile, the Army has already enlisted more than 80 DACA recipients since January despite the ongoing debate in Congress. They can be recruited through a Pentagon program known as the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, for legal immigrants with medical training or valuable language skills.
Two amendments dealt with the prison in Guantánamo Bay, where the U.S. has been holding terrorist suspects for more than a decade. House members approved a Republican amendment "to restrict transfers of detainees" from Gitmo to U.S. soil by 243 votes to 180. Iowa's representatives split along party lines.
A Democratic amendment that would have paved the way to close the Guantánamo Bay facility failed:
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and author of the amendment, called the facility an "international eyesore." He noted that the U.S. already has prisons that can hold dangerous convicted terrorists.
"We have the facilities. We have the ability to hold them safely here," Smith said.
The legislation maintains the current ban against transferring Guantánamo Bay detainees to the U.S. It also prohibits building facilities to house detainees on U.S. soil.
Smith's amendment drew support from most of his fellow Democrats, including Loebsack, but just five Republicans crossed party lines to back the proposal. Blum, Young, and King all helped the majority of the GOP caucus vote it down.
The next amendment to come up for a vote was a gesture toward the gun lobby. It would require the Pentagon "to establish a process by which the commander of a military installation may authorize a servicemember to carry a concealed personal firearm on the installation if the commander determines it to be necessary as a personal or force-protection measure." All three Iowa Republicans helped pass this amendment by 253 votes to 166, joined by eighteen House Democrats. Loebsack stuck with the majority of his caucus to oppose the amendment.
Another amendment would "stop funding for the implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and Russia because of Moscow's annexation of Crimea." All three Iowa Republicans voted for that amendment, which passed by 235 votes to 182. Loebsack voted no, along with most of the House Democrats.
The next Democratic amendment would have required "funding for the Navy's new Ohioclass replacement submarines to come from their traditional Navy accounts, instead of the Sea-Based Deterrent Fund." Its sponsor argued that the measure would end a "budget gimmick":
The current plan for the Ohio replacement program will cost nearly $140 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. Rather than a free for all, the Navy should be required to make difficult decisions about how to prioritize investments in its surface and submarine fleets. This amendment does not cut funds, but simply transfers funds from the Sea-Based Deterrence Fund back into their historic Navy budget lines.
"The Sea-Based Deterrence Fund is an illusion of affordability," Representative Blumenauer continued. "This fund may allow the Navy to build all of the ships and submarines it wants without running afoul of the Navy's budgetary caps, however, there's no getting around the fact that the money will have to come from somewhere. Untethering the program from the Navy's shipbuilding budget will reduce scrutiny and discipline, increasing the likelihood of cost overruns and questionable accounting."
Only 39 Democrats and four Republicans voted for this amendment. All four Iowans voted no--another stance worth remembering when we hear our members of Congress claim to take a hard line on government spending.
The next roll-call vote had me scratching my head. How is this provision relevant to the military budget?
The House did adopt a provision by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) that would stop the re-listing of the lesser prairie chicken on the endangered species list until 2021, unless the Interior Department determines that a conservation plan is not working.
The Iowans split along the expected party lines as this amendment passed by 229 votes to 190.
The final amendment to come to a roll-call vote was a Democratic proposal to strike language placing "limits on funding for dismantlement of nuclear weapons." Loebsack and most of the Democratic caucus voted for that amendment, but Iowa's three Republicans helped vote it down by 242 votes to 178.
As mentioned above, all four Iowans supported the defense authorization bill on final passage. Loebsack was among 41 Democrats who ignored House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's appeals to vote no. In Pelosi's view, the bill "perpetuates instability" and "sets unrealistic funding for the Pentagon budget."
"Democrats stand for a strong national defense, and today, our members sent a strong message in support of giving our men and women in uniform and our military overall the certainty they need, not Republican budget gimmicks," Pelosi said in a statement.
Most of the Democrats who serve on the House Armed Services Committee voted for the bill, but the ranking Democrat on that committee opposed it, "citing the $38 billion for the war fund circumventing spending caps under sequestration."
I didn't see any official statements from Blum, Young, or King after the military funding bill passed, but Loebsack's office sent out a press release that I've enclosed below.
For now, the U.S. Senate is drafting a separate defense authorization bill, rather than taking up the House-passed version. Scroll to the end of this post for a statement released by Senator Joni Ernst, who serves on the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
Representative Dave Loebsack press release, May 15:
Loebsack Authored Provisions Included in 2016 Defense Policy Bill
Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement after three provisions he authored were included as amendments to the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation recently passed the House Armed Services Committee and is now being debated on the House Floor.
"Our men and women in uniform, along with their military families, proudly and honorably serve our country. The legislation that is now being debated on the House floor includes provisions I authored to make the Rock Island Arsenal stronger by driving more workload to their facilities," said Loebsack.
Specifically, amendments authored by Congressman Loebsack included in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act are:
• Installation Arsenal Reutilization Authority - Provides senior leadership at Rock Island Arsenal greater authorities to lease real or personal property for the purposes of leveraging private investment at military manufacturing arsenals through long-term facility use contracts, property management contracts, leases, or other such agreements. This amendment is designed to give Rock Island leadership greater flexibility to utilize unused administrative and warehouse space on the island, helping to bring workload and continued employment to the Island.
• Utilization of Armament Retooling and Manufacturing Support (ARMS) Initiative - This provision makes improvements to the ARMS program by giving the Army flexibility to enter into longer lease terms. It also encourages greater cooperation with the local community to promote greater use of ARMS. As the United States shifts to a peacetime footing, increased use of ARMS will help to support our ammunition plants and the highly skilled workforce there. This amendment allows the Army to work closely with local and state governments as well as economic development organizations and private businesses to make ARMS even more of a win-win for the Army, private businesses, local communities, and the ammunition plants.
• Pharmacy Amendment (Offered with Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA-08)) - This amendment modifies a pilot program that is intended determine if the DOD can get the same savings using a network of preferred retail pharmacies as they can from using mail order by allowing retail pharmacies to provide medications to TRICARE beneficiaries at the same copayment rates as mail order. It will ensure that veterans can continue to access their local, trusted pharmacies for their medications.
May 14 press release from Senator Joni Ernst:
"I am pleased to see that seven of my amendments were included in the NDAA which added processes to ensure the VA is proactive in its outreach to veterans suffering from mental health issues, pushes the US and our allies to provide the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga with the weapons and equipment needed to combat ISIS without delay, and ensures that federal programs are efficient, on budget and on schedule, among many other critical measures."
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) released the following statement after the Senate Armed Services Committee completed markup of the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill will head to the Senate floor where it awaits further action.
"This year's National Defense Authorization Act prioritizes what is needed; it provides our military with the necessary resources to protect our national security while cutting wasteful spending.
"I am pleased to see that seven of my amendments were included in the NDAA which added processes to ensure the VA is proactive in its outreach to veterans suffering from mental health issues, pushes the US and our allies to provide the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga with the weapons and equipment needed to combat ISIS without delay, and ensures that federal programs are efficient, on budget and on schedule, among many other critical measures.
"I am honored to have been a part of this bipartisan work on the Senate Armed Services Committee to complete markup of the NDAA and look forward to further discussions on this important legislation on the Senate floor."
Ernst Language Included in NDAA:
"Sense of the Senate that the development of gender-neutral Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) standards are vital to determining occupational assignments for all members of the military. Studies being conducted by the US military on a gender-neutral standard should incorporate the best scientific practices available to ensure these studies do not result in unnecessary barriers for service in the US military. All DoD decisions on military occupational standards should be based on objective analysis on tasks required to perform the MOS, and such standards should not reduce the standards of our combat arms units."
Summary of Ernst Amendments Included in NDAA:
• An amendment to improve the Clay Hunt SAV Act pilot program by requiring outreach of the VA's community-based veteran peer support network to our wounded, ill, and injured service members, as well as all service members within 180 days of leaving service. This amendment will ensure the VA will be proactive, instead of reactive, with its outreach to those who have sacrificed for our nation on this important mental health pilot program.
• An amendment, for the next five years, to provide new or current leases on Army Ammunition Plants, under the Army's ARMS initiative, the option of extending a 25-year lease for an additional 25-year period. This amendment will attract and retain greater investment, reduce facility sustainment cost, and provide a boost to some local communities - including the Des Moines County Iowa Army Ammunition Plant.
• An amendment to require, within a year of enactment of this legislation, a joint report to the Senate Armed Services Committee from the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Navy, a plan to jointly modernize Army and Marine Corps small arms during a 15-year period. This amendment seeks to reduce duplication of efforts between the services, potentially realize cost savings in developing common small arms weapons and technology, and improve the committee's oversight of the modernization strategies of both of the branches of service whose primary mission it is to fight and win our nation's land conflicts.
• An amendment to instill the sense of the Senate on the severity of the threat posed by ISIS to the people and territorial integrity of Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan, and the security and stability of the region and the world. It also shares the sense that the US, in coordination with our coalition partners, provide without undue delay-the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga with the heavy weapons and equipment, and training necessary to defeat ISIS. This amendment reminds us that ISIS's leaders have stated they intend to target our Homeland and American citizens, and recognizes the long-term and successful partnership between Iraqi Kurds and the US military during the Iraq War.
• An amendment to require the DoD to submit a report on ISIS, al-Nusra, and other terrorists group lines of communication through countries bordering Syria, and the threat posed by these lines of communication to the Homeland, our men and women in uniform, DoD installations, and diplomatic facilities located in Europe and Middle East.
• An amendment, cosponsored by Senators Inhofe and Ayotte, to permanently establish the National Guard State Partnership Program and require the DoD Comptroller to submit a report on establishing a central fund to manage the program under DoD.
• An amendment to bring much needed improvement to program and project management within the acquisition process at the DoD to ensure federal programs are efficient, on budget and on schedule. It takes the best practices from high performing organizations in the private sector and implements them at DoD, and it does without impacting current organizational structures or requiring additional resources. This amendment makes it possible for the first time to pinpoint and identify the appropriate personnel responsible for these programs by establishing standards and policies for DoD that are in accordance with nationally accredited stands and guidance for program and project management.