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COLUMN: Fully Funding a Strong Defense and Pay Raises for Our Troops Is Not a “Waste of Time”

July 6, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

The responsibility “to provide for the common defense” is one of the fundamental roles of the federal government—the duty is explicitly mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution. With the importance of preserving national security in mind, few provisions are more critical than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA is no ordinary piece of legislation. This annual defense bill is the legislative vehicle that authorizes funding and legal authorities required for our military to function. The NDAA funds the Department of Defense, including overseas operations and pay for the men and women in the Armed Forces charged with protecting us. The current bill contains a 2.3 percent military pay raise, retirement reforms, funding to ensure appropriate levels of troop readiness, TRICARE (the military’s health care system), missile defense, resources to combat cyberattacks, and more. In short, this defense bill authorizes the diverse resources for our national security and our troops.

For the past 53 years, the NDAA has been approved without fail on a bipartisan basis. In these dangerous times when the threats abroad include dangerous terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, full funding for our military should continue to be a bipartisan effort.

The current NDAA includes every penny of the $612 billion requested by President Obama. Although Democrats do not disagree with the policies in the NDAA, some have vowed to block the bill. Why? 143 House Democrats voted against the defense bill not because they disagree with provisions contained in it, but because they want to use a different accounting method that would allow more domestic spending.

Democratic leadership is trying to use debate over NDAA to end current spending limits under the Budget Control Act (called “sequestration”) for domestic spending on federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.  However, constraining our growing national debt is also important to our national defense.  As Admiral Mullen stated, “I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”

Astonishingly, President Obama has threatened to veto the defense bill. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has even said that debating the bill was “a waste of time.” I could not disagree more.

There is a time and place for a policy debate, and where that debate occurred in committees in both the House and Senate, the NDAA passed on overwhelmingly bipartisan votes. Threatening to block funding for national defense in order to end current budget limits for domestic spending is irresponsible.

I voted to pass the House version of the defense bill in May. The House and Senate must now reconcile their differences and agree on a final bill before sending it to the President for his signature.

Whether to fully fund the needs of our military should not even be a question. Using the national defense bill as a bargaining chip to increase domestic spending shows nothing less than terribly misplaced priorities, especially as we face continued threats abroad. It is time for lawmakers to get serious about ensuring adequate funding for national defense and to stop playing politics with our national defense.