Vote Notes - The National Defense Authorization Act Amendments
As promised on Wednesday, let me highlight a few amendments in the annual defense authorization bill that I thought significant. Again, I missed them because I was in Beaufort for my mom’s funeral, but I thought I owed you an explanation on these amendments that I found more controversial or more difficult to understand.
Rep. Jared Polis offered an amendment that would have reduced the bill’s total funding level by 1%. I vote in favor of amendments to reduce spending, but in this case, I would have voted against this amendment because of the way the cut would be achieved. In the past, I have voted for 1% across the board reductions that would be managed by Congress. Rep. Polis’s amendment, however, would allow the President to cut whatever he or she wanted so long as the cuts add up to 1% of the budget. The Founding Fathers intended for only Congress to have the power of the purse and the ability to make decisions in spending your money. We should not cede this authority. This amendment ran counter to this premise of constitutional authority, and for this reason, I would have voted against it. The amendment failed 73 to 351.
Rep. Tom McClintock offered an amendment that would have allowed the Pentagon to explore the possibility of another round of military base closures, often referred to as a “BRAC.” The last round took place in 2005, and since that time, several branches of our military have reported excess capacity in terms of bases and other facilities. The Army, for example, reports that approximately 21% of all its bases are no longer needed. The underlying bill would have prevented the Defense Department from even conducting the preliminary studies that identify unnecessary bases and opportunities for consolidation and cost savings.
Many contend that the last BRAC round was less than perfect, and there were certainly things that could have been done better. However, in South Carolina, we actually added 700 jobs during my tenure as Governor as a result of the 2005 BRAC round. We shouldn’t let the perfect be an enemy of the good, and it seems reasonable to conduct the due diligence necessary to see whether the result would be a net-positive or net-negative for the country overall. I therefore would have voted yes on this amendment, but it failed 175 to 248.
Rep. Vicki Hartzler offered an amendment that would have barred military doctors from performing gender transition surgeries. I would have voted for her amendment. My vote on this amendment would have come down to keeping the military focused on the mission at hand, both in terms of personnel and funding. Readiness is a concern that I hear about frequently in discussions with military officials from all branches, and accordingly, Congress should avoid doing anything that unnecessarily diverts focus from what I believe should be the focus of the military...the ability to win wars. The amendment failed 209 to 214.
Rep. Tom Rooney offered an amendment that would have allowed service academy athletes to push off their military service duty and instead pursue professional sports careers. You get a free education paid for by the taxpayer and then get to walk from the commitment made by each of your fellow cadets? Earning the opportunity to play professional sports is indeed a tremendous and rare accomplishment, but athletes who choose to go to service academies do so with the full understanding that they will be cadets or midshipmen first, athletes second. I therefore would have voted against the amendment, which failed 107 to 318.
I was able to make it back to Washington for a handful of other amendments, and I highlight two in particular.
An amendment offered by Representative Franks would have directed the Department of Defense to officially study how Islam is being manipulated by extremists to further their terrorist agenda. It was well meaning, and I admire Tent Franks and the spirit of his amendment. There is a clear connection between radical Islam and terrorism, but we already know that. In fact, we know it all too well, and I think we should be careful of multiple studies of something we know.
In this instance, I also think it is telling that a number of members with military or other relevant backgrounds also voted against this amendment. For instance, Rep. Steve Stivers served in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Djibouti as Battalion Commander and received a Bronze Star for his valor during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick was an FBI agent focused on counter-terrorism and in fact worked in Iraq before his election. Rep. Steve Russell was an Army Ranger and served more than seven years overseas in Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Each of them is in no way frightened of calling an ace and ace on perpetrators of wrong, but they also join me in being leery of painting with too broad a brush in looking for the cause of wrong. In this regard, while I believe the link between a distorted view of Islam and terrorism is something that must be dealt with, I was concerned the language of this amendment ventured a little too close to suggesting that Islam was the cause of wrong. I voted against this amendment, and it failed 208 to 217.
Rep. Doug Lamborn offered an amendment that would relax oversight of missile defense procurement. In terms of inefficient military spending, missile defense systems have a particularly bad history. Over the years, many projects have been developed and funded halfway, only to be scrapped in favor of a newer technology or in light of a changing global threat landscape. According to a report published by the Government Accountability Office, of the 10 missile defense systems that were scheduled for testing in 2014, only four were tested, and the rest were canceled or delayed. That’s why a requirement was put in place to have the Secretary of Defense personally approve new missile defense procurement projects, verifying that they are indeed necessary and unlikely to be abandoned before considerable amounts of time and money are devoted to them. That’s just smart budgeting, which is why I voted no on this amendment. It passed 235 to 189.