tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN October 7, 2015 2:00am-4:01am EDT
a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from rhode island. mr. reed: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, i rise to discuss the conference report on the fiscal year 2016 national defense authorization bill, which we will be voting on in the next hour. this conference report is the product of months of negotiation and compromise between the house and the senate, and i frankly want to commend chairman mccain, chairman thornberry and remember member smith for a thoughtful, inclusive and cautious process. there are many provisions in this bill which provide the support we owe to our service members and their families. the funding authority and equipment necessary for our troops to succeed in combat and significant and critical reforms for the military retirement compensation and acquisition systems, many of which i will talk about in further debate on this bill in the days and hours ahead. however, i regret that i am unable to support this conference report because it shifts $38 billion requested by the president for enduring base
military requirements, the base budget, if you will, to the overseas contingency operations or o.c.o. account, essentially skirting the law known as the budget control act or the b.c.a. again, this is a maneuver to get around a statute which was signed by the president, voted for by congress, which has imposed budget caps in every department, and central to that agreement was the consensus, significant consensus that domestic and defense discretionary spending would be capped, and what this conference report does is violate that consensus by using o.c.o. in a way that it was not originally intended to be so used. this budget gimmick allows the majority to fully fund the defense department without breaking caps imposed by the b.c.a. on both defense and nondefense spending. however, the o.c.o. account
provides no relief for nondefense departments and agencies, and that includes many agencies that are critical for our national security. and because of this device, i and nearly all of the democratic conferees on the bill did not sign the conference report. using o.c.o. as this bill would do is counter to the intent of the budget control act. the b.c.a. imposed proportionately will cut defense and nondefense discretionary spending to force a bipartisan compromise to our ongoing budget difficulties. o.c.o. and emergency funding are outside budget caps for a reason. they finance the cost of ongoing military operations or to respond to other unforeseen events like natural disasters. to suddenly ignore the true purpose of o.c.o. and treat it as a budgetary gambit in order to skirt the b.c.a. caps is in my view unacceptable use of this important tool for our war fighters in the field.
adding funds to o.c.o. does not solve and actually complicates the department of defense's budgetary problem. defense budgeting needs to be based on our long-term military strategy which requires the department of defense to focus at least five years in the future. a one-year plus-up to o.c.o. does not provide department of defense with the certainty and stability it needs in providing its five-year budget. just the highlight of how this o.c.o. approach skews defense spending, consider the amount of o.c.o. in relation to the number of troops deployed. again, i think it is a useful metric because o.c.o. evolved when we were deploying troops overseas, first in response to afghanistan and enduring freedom, then with respect to iraq, and that there is a correlation i think at least in the minds of most people between our efforts overseas with troops engaged and the size of o.c.o. in 2008, the height of our nation's troop commitment in
iraq and afghanistan, approximately 187,000 total troops deployed, we spent approximately $1 million of o.c.o. for every service member deployed to those countries. under this bill, we would spend approximately $9 million in o.c.o. for every service member deployed to iraq and afghanistan. roughly about 9,930 people in d.o.d. projections. so this increase has gone some place. it hasn't gone overseas directly to the men and women who are fighting but it has gone to other accounts in the department of defense. in addition to this phenomenon, within the next few years, the services will begin precuring new weapons systems while modernizing and maintaining other systems. the department will spend $48 billion to procure the f-35 joint fight strike fighter, $10.6 billion to ohio class
program, $13.9 billion for the long-range strike bomber and $27.7 billion for the virginia class marine program. each of these programs is critically important to our national defense, and we must ensure they are robustly funded, but if the b.c.a. caps remain in place, it is likely tough budget choices will need to be made. as a result, if we decide to stay within the stringent budget caps, we may be forced to fund these programs at the expense of other equally meritorious programs. we'll have a choice of not investing fully in these necessary strategic improvements or using legacy systems, which are so important to pay for them, tough choices. alternatively and what i think is more likely to happen, these programs will be funded in the base budget. however, in order to ensure the budget caps are not breached, funding will be shifted from the operations and maintenance o. and m. account to the o.c.o.
account in order to accommodate increased procurement for new weapons systems. that is what has happened with this $38.3 billion shifted from the traditional base budget into o.c.o. budget accounts for o. and m. requirements. so what you have here is in a sense a budgetary sleight of hand. we know we have these increased demands coming to us because we do have to recapitalize our strategic systems particularly, and if we have the b.c.a. caps in place, we have to find some money someplace, and that's likely to be the o.c.o. accounts. and we'll see a fund, o.c.o., which was designed to support ongoing operations overseas suddenly be the pay-for for long-term based budget items, i.e., recapitalization of western strategic deterring forces. and if we use this scheme this year, maybe with the good intentions and the honest intentions of just one year to get us ahead, it will be easier
to do it next year and the year after and the year after that, ensuring that this imbalance between security and domestic spending continues. as we all recognize, effective national security requires that non-d.o.d. departments and agencies also receive relief from the b.c.a. caps. the pentagon simply cannot meet the spectacles set of mass security challenges without the help of other government departments and agencies, including state, justice and homeland security. undersecretary defense of policy christine wolmov made this point before the armed services committee just a few weeks ago to testify on a strategy to counter isil, which many americans believe to be the top national security threat facing our country. the department of defense is only one part of a whole government approach to defeating isil, secretary wolmov said. it will take more than just a military campaign to be
successful against isil. we also need help to drive isil's finances, stop the flows of foreign fighters into iraq and syria in particular, protect the united states from potential isil attacks, provide humanitarian assistance to reveal areas clear of isil forces and find ways to more effectively counter isil's very successful messages and campaign. unfortunately, we will effectively diminish our national capabilities to do all these things by underfunding non-d.o.d. departments and agencies that are critical to our national security. the use of the o.c.o. gimmick -- and it's been referred to that by many people -- in this bill facilitates underfunding those departments, and it should not be supported. we need an all-out governmental effort to provide for our national security, and underfunding state and treasury and other departments is not going to get us that all-out
effort. and when it no longer becomes easy to underfund nondefense agencies, my suspicion is that nondefense programs will begin appearing in o.c.o. and there is some precedent to this. for example, in f.y. 1992, congress added funds to the defense bill for breast cancer research. at the time, discretionary spending was subject to statutory caps under the budget enforcement act of 1990, the follow-on legislation to the gramm-rudman-hollings act of 1985. so you have a situation where you were capping discretionary domestic spending, but defense spending was uncapped, and this is the situation that we are, i think, re-creating in this conference report. that initial funding led to the establishment of the congressionally directed medical research program. and every senator i think is familiar with this important program, and it has strong bipartisan support. each fiscal
year congress authorizes hundreds of millions of dollars for cutting edge medical research. since fiscal year 1992, this program has received over $13 billion in funding. and while this program is funded through the annual defense bill and the program is managed by the army, the department of defense does not execute any of the money itself. it is a competitive grant process. the proposals are subject to stringent peer review criteria and essentially the money goes out to medical research facilities throughout the united states. it is for all nints and purposes -- intents and purposes a medical research program much like we fund through n.i.h. i am a strong support of medical research and strong supporter of this program. and indeed this program has through its reserve and through its efforts saved countless lives. but my concern is that under the aegis of o.c.o., approaches like
this, budgetary manuevers like this will become common. it will be a way to skirt the budget caps. if we do it this year, we have set a precedent for next year and the following year. in ten years from now, the defense bill could authorize billions of dollars of funding for programs that while meritorious will have little or nothing to do with national defense and should be properly budgeted within our base budget for other departments, and indeed some programs properly funded within the department of defense base budget. simply put, this approach would circumvent the budget control act, if not fiscally responsible or honest accounting. it's time that we come together as a congress before the short-term continuing resolution expires to fulfill our responsibilities to the american people, especially our troops and their families, to fully fund our government by revising or eliminating the budget caps
imposed by the b.c.a. on both defense and non-defense spending. in fact, and indeed, if it were not for the o.c.o. issue, i would have likely signed the conference report and have voted for this bill. however, i believe that this o.c.o. issue is too important. the secretary of defense believes it's too important. and the president believes it too important, and he said he will veto bill and any other bill that relies on this o.c.o. gimmick. as secretary of defense carter said last week, without a negotiated budget solution in which everyone comes together at last, we will again return to sequestration level funding, reducing discretionary funding to its lowest real level in a decade despite the fact that members of both parties agree this result will harm national security. making these kind of indiscriminate cuts is managerially inefficient and therefore wasteful to taxpayers and industry.
it's dangerous to our strategy and frankly it's embarrassing in front of the world. these are the words of the secretary of defense echoing the comments we have heard from uniformed military leaders about the inherent dangers of sequestration if it's allowed to continue forward. mr. president, the b.c.a. was created by congress to redress the immediate threat of what would have been a catastrophic national default and to compel congress to come together and reach a balanced compromise, the budget. it is time for congress to make the hard choices and modify or eliminate the caps of the b.c.a. and end the threat of sequestration. it is not just an appropriations issue. it is affecting everything we do. unfortunately, it affects the fy 2016 national defense authorization act and, therefore, i will not be prepared to support this legislation. with that, mr. president, i would yield the floor.
a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from south dakota. mr. thune: are we in a quorum call? the presiding officer: we are not. mr. thune: democrats have spent a lot of time lately talking about the importance of keeping the government open. mr. president, senate republicans couldn't greap more. we know that congress has a responsibility to ensure that our nation's priorities are funded, and we spent a lot of time this year working on that. in may we passed the first joint
house-senate balanced budget resolution in more than a decade. and by the end of july the senate appropriations committee approved all 12 appropriations bills for the first time since 2009. the first time in six years the senate appropriations committee approved all 12 of the appropriations bill. there's one problem, mr. president, and that problem is for all their talk about providing for the government, apparently democrats are reluctant to take any action when it comes to actually passing these bills through the senate. republicans tried to bring up the military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill last week. democrats refused to allow the senate to even consider it. we couldn't get on the bill. they blocked the motion to proceed to even get on to debate that bill. that's right, mr. president. senate democrats, who spent weeks talking about funding the government, refused to allow the senate to even debate a bill
that would fund military construction, protect our homeland and keep the promises that we made to our veterans. now, mr. president, i might be able to understand democrats' position if they had been shut out of the process on this legislation, but they weren't. the military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill was debated in the appropriations committee where members of both parties were given an opportunity to offer amendments and to help shape the bill's contents. the bill passed out of the committee with an overwhelming bipartisan majority. and if democrats had allowed the bill to reach the floor, they would have had yet another opportunity to debate and amend the legislation. but the senate democrats wouldn't even let the bill come to the floor to be debated. they blocked the motion to proceed to the bill that would even allow us and allow them an opportunity to be heard, an
opportunity to offer amendments. now, mr. president, some democrats have threatened to block the bill that we're currently considering this week, which is the national defense authorization act, which, again, is a bicameral agreement that authorizes funding for our nation's military and our national defense. this is the bill that ensures our soldiers receive the bonuses and the pay that they've earned, that their equipment and training will be funded, and that our commanders will have the resources they need to confront the threats that are facing our nation. and like the bill democrats blocked last week, this legislation is the product of a bipartisan committee process, and it received bipartisan support coming out of the committee. more than that, it received strong bipartisan support on the senate floor when it first came up for consideration in june.
this bill, the defense authorization act, which funds our military priorities, was reported out of the senate armed services committee -- big vote -- came to the floor of the united states senate, received a big bipartisan vote here in the united states senate. but now some of the very same democrats who supported this bill a little more than three months ago are planning to vote against it. and on top of that, president obama has threatened to veto this bill when it comes to his desk. so, mr. president, the question is this: why are democrats opposing a bill that would authorize the funding that our troops need to operate? historically the national defense authorization act has received strong bipartisan support, and there's a good reason for that. historically, both democrats and republicans have known that the great responsibility that we have to the men and women who keep us safe, and we've made a
habit of working together to try and meet that responsibility. so why are things different this year? well, basically, mr. president, democrats have decided since they can't get everything they want, they're going to take their ball and go home. now, republicans knew democrats were considering this, of course, but we'd hope that after months of successful collaboration they would rethink that strategy. because, as i said, all 12 appropriations bill reported out of the senate appropriations committee with bipartisan majorities, collaboration, input from both sides, amendments offered and amendments voted on. but unfortunately, this past week it's become clear that senate democrats and the president are committed to following through on their plans to obstruct these bills. their argument is that they want more money for this or fo that,
and we're not going to fund the military until we get more money for whatever their domestic priority is, whether it's more funding for the e.p.a. or for the i.r.s. or some other agency of government. that's what this is about. but it is somewhat staggering to think that some senate democrats would think of blocking the national defense authorization act after supporting this bill in june. it's pretty hard to explain why you think a bill is good one day and not the next. and let's just remind ourselves what it is that they're voting to block and what the president is threatening to veto. the national defense authorization act authorizes funding for our nation's military and our national defense from equipment and training, for our soldiers, to critical national security priorities like supporting our
allies against russian aggression overseas. in my state of south dakota, we are proud to host the 28th bomb wing at wft nation's -- one of the nation's b-1 bomber bases. they are a critical part of the united states bomber fleet and bombers from the 28th bomb wing played a key role in armed conflicts the united states engaged in over the past 20 years. during operation odyssey dawn b-1 from ellsworth launched from south dakota, flew halfway around the world though libya, dropped their bombs and returned home all in a single mission. this marked the first time in hoifort the b -- history the b-1's launched from the united states to strike targets overseas. without the defense national authorization act the funding levels needed in 2016 to maintain these bombers and the readiness of our airmen at ellsworth won't be authorized. it's that simple and that's, mr. president, what's at stake
with this bill. the president chooses to veto this legislation. he's vetoing the bill that authorizes benefits for our troops and the funding our military needs to operate. he's also vetoing authorization for the weapons, vehicles and planes that our military needs to defend our country against future threats such as the long-range strike bomber which is one of the air force's top acquisition priorities and also represents the future of our bomber fleet. by vetoing this bill, the president would also be vetoing a number of critical reforms that will expand the resources available to our military men and women to strengthen our national security. for instance, this year's national defense authorization act tackles waste inefficiency at the department of defense. it targets $10 billion in unnecessary spending and redirects those funds to military priorities like funding for aircraft and weapons systems and modernization of navy vessels. the bill also implements sweeping reforms of the
military's outdated acquisitions process by removing bureaucracy and expediting decision making which will significantly improve the military's ability to access the technology and the equipment that it needs. the act also implements a number of reforms to the pentagon's administrative functions. over the past decade army headquarters staff has increased by 60%, yet in recent years the army has been cutting brigade combat teams. from 2001 to 2012, the department of defense's civilian workforce grew at five times the rate of our active duty military personnel. the defense authorization bill that we're considering changes the emphasis of the department of defense from administration to operations which will help ensure that our military personnel receive the training they need and are ready to meet any threats that arise. this bill also overhauls our military retirement system. the current miment retirement
system -- military retirement system limits benefits to soldiers who served for 20 years or more which does not apply to 83% of those who served including veterans of the wars in iraq and afghanistan. the national defense authorization act replaces this system with a modern retirement system that would extend retirement benefits to 75% of our service members. mr. president, no time -- no time is a good time to veto funding for our nation's troops. but with tensions in the world where they are, the decision by senate democrats and the president to block this funding authorization is particularly unconscionable. as we speak, isis is carving a trail of slaughter across the middle east. russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and iran is continuing to fund terrorism. and thanks to the president's nuclear deal, iran will soon have access to increased funds and the ability to purchase more conventional weapons. that's right, mr. president,
while president obama is threatening to veto a bill that funds our armed forces, he has agreed to a deal with iran that gives iran access to over $100 billion to fund terrorism in the iranian revolutionary guard. that same flawed iran deal waives sanctions on leaders including general suleimani responsible for the deaths of american soldiers in iraq. yet the president is threatening to veto, pay boas and improve military retirement benefits for soldiers at home. the president's iran deal gives hezbollah and hamas more funding to spread terrorism, yet the president is threatening to veto additional resources for our allies to defeat isis as well as missile defense for our allies including israel. mr. president, right now, president obama is threatening to veto funding for our advanced weapon systems for u.s. military forces, yet his nuclear agreement gives iran access to
conventional weapons, ballistic missiles, advanced nuclear centrifuges. now, above all, in the wake of this flawed iran deal and growing chaos in the middle east, holding up funding for our troops by blocking this authorization bill is unacceptable. while senate democrats and the president may have decided to pursue a strategy of obstruction, it's not too late for them to change their minds. they can still cast a vote in favor of funding for our military and our national security priorities, and i hope that before this vote happens today, they'll rethink their opposition and join republicans in supporting this critical bill. mr. president, i yield the floor. mr. durbin: mr. president? the presiding officer: the assistant democratic leader. mr. durbin: how much time is remaining on the democratic side? the presiding officer: five minutes. mr. durbin: i thank the chair. the issue before us is a conference committee report on
the house defense authorization bill. it's not the spending bill. it's the authorizing of spending. it's a bill that largely is bipartisan. there's no argument on either side of the aisle to support our troops, no argument against providing the technology and weaponry that they need to keep themselves and america safe, but the issue before us is a larger budget issue that goes even beyond the department of defense but certainly includes it, and that is how are we going to fund our government? the republican approach here is to put in $37 billion to $38 billion of madeup money. in other words, they take $37 billion to $38 billion of what's known as o.c.o. funds or war funds and just assume it's there and put it in the budget for the department of defense only. but they don't put money in for nondefense agencies, so they adequately fund the department of defense. in fact, some say generously fund it, and then cut back on the rest of government.
what's the difference? what difference does it make? well, the cutbacks include on the nondefense side medical research at the national institutes of health. the cuts include adequate resources for the veterans administration to keep our promise to the men and women who served us in the military. the cuts include keeping america safe when it comes to homeland security and the f.b.i. so they make cuts in all of thighs agencies but provide the funding for the department of defense. we argue let's have some balance here. we want to give our troops the very best treatment, but we certainly don't want to shortchange the other side of government, the nondefense side, and that's what the budget negotiations are all about. so republican after republican comes to the floor and says the democrats just don't care about the military. it's not true. both sides care about the military, but there are other parts of our government that are important as well for the safety of the united states and the future of the united states, whether it's education or
medical research or caring for our veterans, let's have a balance in our budget that acknowledges that reality, and let's look at a couple other things that are realistic, too. how many people in america think we are suffering from not enough handguns on the streets of america? there are some who do. there is a provision in this bill, which is no surprise if you follow legislation on capitol hill. the gun lobby is always looking for a little way to expand their universe of more guns in america, so they proposed in the house of representatives the congressman -- the congressman from alabama proposed that the military sell 100,000 45-caliber handguns, semiautomatic handguns, without any background checks on the purchasers. that was the proposal in the house. 100,000 handguns, semiautomatic
handguns without any background checks on the purchasers? did they really do that? they did. it was in the bill. jack reed, the senator from rhode island, who is the ranking democrat, changed that provision and limited it from 100,000 to 10,000, 10,000 handguns, and said they have to go through dealers so there will be a background check. i raise that point because guns are in the news again, guns are in the news every day. 289 americans are injured each day with firearms. 97 lose their lives. we saw this terrible tragedy last week. i was stunned to hear at n.p.r. over the weekend that what happened at roseburg, oregon, was the 45th school shooting in america this year, the 45th this year. we have to do something about it. it's not going to be solved with this bill alone, but it will be solved if democrats and
republicans start looking for reasonable ways to limit the access of guns for those who have a history of committing criminal felonies or a history of mental instability. i'm glad that the senate conferees cleaned up this house provision that would have dumped 100,000 handguns into the hands of purchasers without any kind of background check. this bill i still think goes too far when it comes to that gun issue, and i would just close by saying this. we are all committed to our military and the defense of the united states. we believe, many of us, that the agreement with iran that precludes their development of a nuclear weapon will lead to a safer world. we are going to carefully monitor it as we promised we would for the sake not only of israel but for all the nations in the region and the united states. we want to make this a safer world. we want to turn to diplomacy before we turn to a military response. and i supported it and i will continue to support it. i hope in the closing minutes of
debate here that members will reflect on the fact that we can have a better deal, not only to help our military but to help those others who are funded by the nondefense side of the budget to have some balance, too, to make sure it isn't lopsided, with the money all going to the department of defense without acknowledging precious needs of america and many other nondefense subjects. i yield the floor. mr. mccain: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. mccain: mr. president, i say with respect to the senator from illinois, he just authenticated an old saying, talk is cheap. this is really one of the more remarkable performances by the other side. they're talking about legislation that is vital to the welfare of the men and women who are serving in the uniform, and yet the senator from illinois says that we shouldn't take care of them because he has another problem.
that's a logic that defies anything i've observed in a long time. this is an authorization bill. it has nothing to do with the appropriations process, and the money that needs to be spent or not spent on any kind of mechanism. the senator from illinois and the senator from nevada, the democrat leader, keep talking about the fact that the budgetary -- passed by the budget committee of majority vote here in the united states senate on the budget calls for additional funding for defense, and so now in direct contravention to that, my friends on the other side of the aisle object to that provision in the budget act and will now proof legislation that
authorizes a pay raise for our troops, authorizes special pay and bonuses to support recruitment and retention, make health care more affordable, increases access to urgent care families, knocks down bureaucratic obstacles to ensure service members maintain access to the medicines they need as they transition from active duty. there are literally tens of -- if not hundreds of provisions that take care of the men and women who are serving in our military. so what do my friends on the other side say? turn this down because they don't like the way it's funded. the fight is on the appropriations, my friends, not on the authorization that defends this nation. and to do this kind of disservice to the men and women who are serving in the uniform is a disgrace. please don't say that you support the men and women in the military, then come to this floor and say that and then vote against this legislation. don't do it.
because any objective observer will tell you that the provisions in this bill are for the benefit of the men and women who are serving in an all-volunteer force. the senator from illinois wants a -- quote -- better deal. i want a better deal. i'm tired of us providing funds for the military on a year-to-year ad hoc basis. i don't like it. i hated sequestration. i think that sequestration is doing permanent damage or at the risk of doing permanent damage of our ability to face this nation at a time when there are more crises in the world than any time since world war ii, where there is a flood of refugees, when the chinese are moving into this bradley islands and dangering the world's most important avenue of commerce, while vladimir putin dismembers russia, and my colleagues from the other side of the aisle are
now complaining that they didn't like the way it was funded. i'll tell you, this is a remarkable time, so apparently the president of the united states, which we will talk about later, who was just shown -- who has just shown his remarkable leadership with the insertion of russia into syria, which he did not find out from his meeting with vladimir putin of 90 minutes, which his secretary of state has said is an opportunity, which his secretary of defense said was -- quote -- unprofessional, they are now slaughtering, slaughtering men, young men who we trained outside of syria and sent in to syria to fight against bashar assad -- excuse me, against isis and
bashar assad and the russians are dropping bombs on them. an incredible situation, and there has never been, in my view, a greater need to authorize and fund our military, which is facing more challenges since the end of world war ii than today, and the -- my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will urge a no vote, will urge a no vote for the first time in 53 years on an overall -- not a specific issue but on a broad issue of the budget, my friends want to turn down our authorization and our responsibilities to the men and women who are serving in the military. i urge my colleagues to rethink their misguided logic here, attack the appropriations bill. let's all sit down and try to
negotiate an agreement that takes care of all of these other aspects of our government, but let's not -- let's not do this to the men and women who are serving. let's not prevent us from improving their quality of life. let's not prevent them from having a pay raise. let's not prevent them from having the medical care that they need. let's not do these things in the name of a budgetary fight. mr. president, i urge an aye vote on the motion to proceed and to -- on final passage when the time arises. i'll be talking a lot more about it between now and if we approve of the motion to proceed.