National Securityby Former Senator Saxby Chambliss
Posted on 2013-12-18
CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I rise today to address the dire
national security situation and the responsibility of this body to pass
a national defense authorization bill this year.
Congress has passed this legislation for each of the last 51 years, always with broad bipartisan support. This year should be no different. Our service men and women are deployed around the globe in defense of our Nation. They put themselves in harm's way to further the American principles of freedom and democracy, yet we have failed to provide these men and women and our senior military leaders the fiscal certainty and legal authorities they need to complete their vital missions.
Instead, we have a Senate majority intent on fundamentally altering the way the Senate conducts business by pushing through bills without a full and open process. This is not the way the Senate was designed to function.
This year's National Defense Authorization Act was reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 20 of this year. Since that time it has been delayed time and again by the Senate majority leader as our Defense leaders struggle to implement our national security strategy. General Dempsey recently transmitted to congressional leadership an itemized list of 26 authorities that will expire at the end of this year or shortly thereafter. We are not talking about legislating ancillary programs or nonessential functions, we are talking about military special pay and bonuses for deployed servicemembers, funds to transition security responsibilities to our Afghan partners, and critical counterinsurgency programs in the Middle East, as well as funding for our intelligence community.
While I support the underlying bill, I am deeply disappointed with the process that got us to this point and thus why I did not vote to invoke cloture. Frankly, I had several amendments I would like to have added to this bill addressing such issues as a technical correction giving Reservists and National Guardsmen proper credit toward retirement for time spent deployed, and an important land transfer of Camp Merrill in Georgia between the Army and the U.S. Forest Service.
I have seen many changes during my years in the Senate, but among those is a disturbing trend regarding the NDAA. We seem to be operating on the premise of fewer, faster, and later. By fewer, I mean fewer amendments. All Senators deserve the opportunity to amend this important piece of legislation. The 20-year average is 140 amendments per year. Last year we were only able to pass 106 amendments. This year we debated one.
As we have seen time and time again, the majority uses the amendment tree to shut down debate and move the bill quicker through the Senate. My colleagues and I have filed over 500 amendments to this year's NDAA. Through hard work and bipartisan support, the two Armed Services Committee staffs have striven to accommodate the concerns of the Senate. But even so, there are pressing issues that require full and deliberative debate in the Senate. These include military sexual assault, counterterrorism and detention policy, and sanctions against those regimes that would do America harm, including Iran.
By faster, I mean the bill spends less time on the Senate floor. The 20-year average is over 9 days, with a maximum of 19 days for the fiscal year 2008 bill. The 1 day we spent on this bill in November is insufficient time to debate the critical security issues confronting our Nation.
The Senate majority has gone to great lengths to keep the bill off the floor. When they could no longer avoid it, they have compressed the timeline for consideration or recommitted it to the Armed Services Committee. This is unprecedented and it is totally unacceptable.
By later, I mean a lack of urgency to take up the bill after committee action. Looking back over the last 40 years, the Senate has gone from passing the NDAA consistently before August to later and later in the year. Last year, it was December. This year we are running up against the end of the year.
I am deeply disappointed at the recent turn of events in the Senate.
[[Page S8965]] Under the guise of streamlining the legislative process, the Senate majority has effectively blocked critical legislative priorities such as the National Defense Authorization Act. I urge my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work together to discharge the fundamental duties our constituents, servicemembers, and veterans demand of us. We should dispose of the fewer, faster, and later mentality and return Congress to regular order.
Leadership matters. No one knows this better than our men and women in uniform. The Constitution of the United States tasks us with providing for the common defense. I fear we have failed in our constitutional obligation, and this failure is a failure of leadership, plain and simple.
With that being said, I want to pay a particular compliment to Chairman Levin as well as to Ranking Member Inhofe for their leadership, which has not failed the country nor has it failed this body. They got together and produced a bill that came out of our committee in due course after a full and open debate on many critical issues, with the understanding we would have the opportunity on the floor of the Senate to file amendments, debate those amendments, and have up-or-down votes.
Chairman Levin has been more than accommodating throughout the process, before and after the time the bill came out of the Armed Services Committee. Likewise, Senator Inhofe has been more than accommodating in making sure Members on this side of the aisle had free and open access to the debate process. They have provided the kind of leadership we expect.
Unfortunately, the majority leader has made a decision to cram this down the throats of the Senate, and from a national security standpoint that is simply not the way this body is designed to work or should work.
I will support the passage of this bill, because I think the end product, amazingly enough, has turned out to be a pretty good product. Could it have been better? You bet. Could the process have been better? Without question. I just wish we had had the opportunity to debate the serious issues that are on the minds of a number of Members of the Senate when it comes to national security, and that we had had the opportunity to present amendments that would have made this strong bill even stronger and to provide our men and women in uniform and the leadership at the Pentagon with the tools they need to be sure we remain the world's strongest military power and that we are able to not only defend America and Americans but to provide for freedom and democracy around the world.
Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.