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A Bipartisan Tradition Ended

July 17, 2019
Weekly Columns

Each year, Congress must authorize the necessary funding and resources for our nation’s defense. Unfortunately, the partisanship that continues to plague the U.S. House of Representatives recently reached a new low, ending the longstanding tradition of passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with overwhelming bipartisanship in the House and affirming support for our troops and the critical resources they need to be effective.

Serving in both the majority and minority party, I have always voted in favor of the NDAA. Indeed, the majority of House members – Republicans and Democrats alike – have voted together in support of this critical bill for 58 years. Regrettably that wasn’t the case in the House, which saddened me a great deal. Due to the inclusion of unnecessary partisan provisions and numerous failures in the customary consideration process, I could not in good conscience support the House version of the NDAA.

During floor debate, I shared my concerns with the substance of the bill. Unlike the Senate-passed version of the NDAA, the topline number contained in the House bill was $17 billion less than the president’s budget request – a move that slows the progress made to date to improve the readiness of the military. I was also concerned that the bill cuts funding to modernize our nuclear forces and reverses a longstanding prohibition against transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.

Although I disagree with much of the bill’s substance, I was also disappointed with the process for the bill’s consideration and the fact that Republican amendments were largely excluded. For reference, the number of amendments allowed for consideration on the House floor – not even guaranteed inclusion in the final bill – clearly favored Democrats. In fact, out of the amendments considered during debate on the floor, 64 percent were proposed by Democrats and only 14 percent came from Republicans. By stark contrast, when Republicans controlled the House in 2018 and 2017, Democrats were extended consideration of 57 and 50 percent of amendments respectively.

After the NDAA was reported out of the House Armed Service Committee and prior to floor consideration, House Republicans made it clear that we could not support it without substantive change. And since the majority of amendments on the floor came from Democrats, that guaranteed the bill would move further in the wrong direction and became even more partisan. For the bill to pass the Republican-controlled Senate and receive President Trump’s signature, it must be bipartisan. That is simply how divided government works.

The military deserves our full support in their mission to maintain our national security. It is never acceptable to place them at the center of political games in order to score political points. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened with recent consideration of the NDAA in the House.   

There is a realistic and responsible path forward. Thanks to the hard work of Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe and members of his committee, the Senate has passed their version of the NDAA – by a strong bipartisan vote of 86-8. Certainly, I support giving our service members the largest pay raise in 10 years as well as ensuring they have the best equipment and training to defeat our adversaries. I look forward to voting for a final compromise later this year that includes provisions with longstanding and bipartisan support.