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Supporting Our Common Defense

December 16, 2019
Weekly Columns

For nearly 60 years, lawmakers in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle have affirmed their bipartisan commitment to providing for our common defense. Through passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the House last week and swift consideration expected in the Senate, I am proud that lawmakers are once again coming together to authorize funding for the programs and resources needed to keep our nation safe while advocating for and supporting the individuals who make every mission possible.

Getting to this point was more challenging than it has been in past years. While writing such a comprehensive piece of legislation is always a massive undertaking, the versions passed by the House and Senate some months back were drastically different. In fact, the House version of NDAA advanced in July was viewed as a wildly partisan piece of legislation due to its substance and the process by which it was brought up by House Democrats. As a result, no Republicans could vote for it in good conscience. Fortunately, the hard work and negotiations of House and Senate conferees led to a bipartisan product that both chambers can now support. This would not have been possible without the leadership of Oklahoma’s own Senator Jim Inhofe, who as Chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee fiercely fought for the interests and needs of the nation’s active duty service members, military families, retirees and civilian workers.

Rightly so, the NDAA conference report supports key quality-of-life initiatives and improvements for military and civilian workers and their families. That includes delivering the largest pay increase in a decade for service members at 3.1 percent. Moreover, it finally sets in motion repeal of the misguided “Widow’s Tax,” which has for years wrongfully deprived surviving family of fallen military service members from getting their full benefits.

Following outrageous reports of families suffering from poor conditions in privatized on-base military housing, I am relieved that the conference report takes strong action to protect tenants and prevent contractor mismanagement in the future. This includes reforms to the Privatized Military Housing Initiative and a new Tenant Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, many families at Tinker Air Force Base in the Fourth District of Oklahoma are all too familiar with Balfour Beatty’s mismanagement, which has resulted in unsafe and unhealthy conditions in numerous housing units built by the contractor. While I am encouraged that changes are being made to keep existing and future contractors accountable to their job of responsibly overseeing housing properties, it is unacceptable that many military families were victims due to negligence and neglect. I will continue to monitor the situation to ensure problems are resolved, conditions are improved and remain that way.

As the Department of Defense (DOD) undergoes comprehensive reform of the existing military health care system (TRICARE), the NDAA conference report demands DOD complete its internal review of medical treatment facilities and provide its overdue assessment to Congress. In the meantime, the NDAA prohibits DOD from making any reductions, closures or changes to medical facilities and personnel that could limit access to care for service members, families and retirees.

In addition to authorizing funding to support our service members, military retirees, civilian personnel and their families, the NDAA importantly authorizes programs in line with the National Defense Strategy that improve readiness, capability and operations. Building on past efforts to restore readiness and promote modernization, the NDAA conference report ensures our military are equipped with the necessary equipment and training to counter threats and adversaries – old and new – around the world today.

Certainly, Congress took a vital step toward delivering on the resources, reforms and benefits contained in the NDAA conference report. However, even after the Senate passes the report and the president signs it into law, half the job remains. To actually fund the critical programs and polices outlined in the NDAA, lawmakers must also come together to pass the defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020. Considering the progress made recently on full-year funding bills for the government, I am hopeful that we will soon be able to do just that.