[Congressional Record Volume 163, Number 188 (Thursday, November 16, 2017)]
From the Congressional Record Online through GPO
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2018--CONFERENCE
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Chair lays before the Senate the
conference report to accompany H.R. 2810, which will be stated by
The bill clerk read as follows:
The committee of conference on the disagreeing votes of the
two Houses on the amendment of the Senate to the bill (H.R.
2810), to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2018 for
military activities of the Department of Defense, for
military construction, and for defense activities of the
Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel
strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes,
having met, have agreed that the House recede from its
disagreement to the amendment of the Senate and agreed to the
same with an amendment, and the Senate agree to the same,
signed by a majority of the conferees on the part of both
Thereupon, the Senate proceeded to consider the conference report.
(The conference report is printed in the House proceedings of the
Record of November 9, 2017.)
Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, today the Senate will vote on the
conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2018. This legislation is the culmination of months of bipartisan
work. I want to thank my friend, the Senator from Rhode Island, as well
as our colleagues in the House of Representatives, Mac Thornberry and
Adam Smith, and the
dozens of members who served on the conference committee for their hard
work and collaboration during this process. Together, we worked hard to
negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions of this
bill, and the result is a piece of legislation that should make all
Senators--and all Americans--proud.
The fundamental purpose of the National Defense Authorization Act is
to provide our Armed Forces with the resources, training, and equipment
they need to keep us safe. We should consider this our highest duty and
our greatest honor, to keep faith with the brave Americans who serve
and sacrifice on our behalf.
To do that, the NDAA authorizes funding, advances policies, and
requires reforms that will support our men and women in uniform, but
before I discuss the many laudable aspects of this legislation, let me
lament for a moment the developments that have unfolded in recent days
and delayed this important legislation.
This delay concerns a provision in the defense bill to get our
military emergency approval to use new lifesaving medicines on the
battlefield. This provision was included in the original Senate version
of this legislation that has been publicly available for several
months, and it was included in this conference report with strong
bipartisan and bicameral support. For years, the Department of Defense
has struggled in vain to gain approval by the Food and Drug
Administration for certain vital medical products, such as freeze-dried
plasma, for use by our troops on the battlefield. Because the FDA
failed to act time and again, the Senate Armed Services Committee did,
and we received strong support from our House colleagues.
It is outrageous that the National Defense Authorization Act has been
held hostage by the desire to pass a separate piece of legislation to
address this issue differently than this conference report. That
separate legislation was the product of a compromise between the DOD
and the FDA, to which neither the Senator from Rhode Island nor I was a
party. Our preferred solution remains our original one.
Yesterday, the Senator from Rhode Island and I received a letter from
the FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, expressing his personal
commitment to approve the use of freeze-dried plasma for battlefield
use by our troops. He has also pledged to establish a new process for
expedited consideration of the DOD's future emergency medical requests.
This did not happen by accident. It happened because we acted and
because we exposed the unacceptable ways in which the FDA has been
failing our men and women in uniform for far too long.
Dr. Gottlieb was only confirmed as FDA Commissioner in May, and we
intend to hold him fully accountable for making good on his commitment,
including through continued oversight by the Senate Armed Services
Committee. However, if we are not satisfied that this new DOD-FDA
compromise has fixed the problem, the Senate Armed Services Committee
will take action through the NDAA next year. I know that the chairman
and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee have expressed
that same commitment. We owe nothing less to our men and women in
uniform, who deserve our help in saving lives on the battlefield.
Ultimately, that is the goal of every provision of the National
Defense Authorization Act--to protect our brave servicemembers, here at
home and around the world. The NDAA authorizes funding to rebuild our
military and allow the Defense Department to embark on an ambitious
program of modernization that is desperately needed and long overdue.
The NDAA authorizes the acquisition of ships, aircraft, and equipment
above and beyond the administration's request. It provides funding for
an increase in end strength across all services, laying the groundwork
for a total force, ready and capable of rising to the challenges of a
world where threats are on the rise.
The NDAA builds on the reforms this Congress has passed in recent
years, continuing efforts to reorganize the Department of Defense, spur
innovation in defense technology, and improve acquisition and business
operations to strengthen accountability and streamline the process of
getting our warfighters what they need to succeed. It prioritizes
accountability from the Department and demands the best use of every
This legislation also authorizes funding for our missile defense
systems to protect against rising threats. It makes important efforts
to correct the dangerous lack of an effective strategy and policy for
the information domain, including cyber, space, and electronic warfare.
The NDAA authorizes a 2.4 percent pay raise for our troops, which is
the largest in many years, and it includes several provisions to
improve quality of life for our men and women in uniform. In
particular, the legislation continues committee's efforts to protect
our servicemembers from sexual assault and sexual harassment. There is
more work to be done, and the committee will continue to conduct
oversight and hold hearings to address these important issues.
In total, the National Defense Authorization Act supports a defense
budget of $700 billion for fiscal year 2018. This exceeds the
administration's request by $26 billion. It also exceeds the defense
spending caps in the Budget Control Act by $85 billion.
Earlier this week, 356 Members of the House of Representatives voted
in favor of this spending level. This afternoon, an overwhelming
majority of this body will do the same. Let this serve as a reminder of
the troubling state of our military today and an acknowledgement that
the Budget Control Act-level of defense spending is insufficient and
My friends, for too long, our Nation has asked our men and women in
uniform to do too much with far too little. Our military's job is hard
enough, but we are making it harder through continuing resolutions,
unpredictable funding, and arbitrary spending caps that were put into
law 6 years ago--before the rise of ISIS, before the current crisis
with North Korea, before Russia's return to aggression on the world
stage, and before so many other dangerous developments.
We have been warned that we cannot go on like this. Earlier this
year, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford,
warned us, “In just a few years if we don't change the trajectory, we
will lose our qualitative and our quantitative competitive advantage,
[and] the consequences will be profound.” Secretary of Defense Jim
Mattis also warned us, saying, “We are no longer managing risk; we are
We are gambling with risk, and we are gambling with lives. Today more
of our men and women in uniform are being killed in totally avoidable
training accidents and routine operations than by our enemies in
My friends, it doesn't have to be this way. The NDAA shows us what we
could do with an adequate level of defense spending, what we could
provide for our men and women in uniform, but this legislation is only
part of the solution. As of yet, we still have no path to actually
appropriate the money that we are about to authorize. That requires a
bipartisan agreement to adjust the spending caps in the Budget Control
As we join our colleagues in the House in voting to support $700
billion for defense, let this serve as a guidepost for our leaders in
Congress and the White House as they negotiate a budget deal. This is
the spending level that an overwhelming majority of both the House and
the Senate believes is necessary to meet current threats and to keep
faith with our men and women in uniform. After we vote to authorize
these vital, additional resources for our military, we must all demand
a bipartisan agreement so that we can appropriate those resources.
This will require hard work and tough choices, and it will demand
that we have the courage of our convictions, but in the end, this will
require much less of us than what we ask of from our men and women in
uniform. As they so dutifully sacrifice for us every day, let us do our
part and fulfill our duties to them and to the Nation they serve.
Mr. LEAHY Mr. President, the fiscal year 2018 National Defense
Authorization Act, while laudable in its goals, does not comport with
reality. At roughly $700 billion, the proposed base funding in this
bill is $85 billion above budget caps that are set in law for Fiscal
Year 2018 in the Budget Control
Act, BCA, and $31 billion above the administration's budget request. If
the authorized funding level were to be appropriated, without changing
the caps, it would trigger a 12-percent across-the-board sequester of
Defense programs to bring spending levels back to the Fiscal Year 2018
levels contained in the Budget Control Act. A sequester of this size
would hit us in readiness. It would hamper our day-to-day operations
and maintenance. It would hurt our troops. Our military leaders do not
support such a sequester.
If we really want to support our military and the men and women in
uniform, we must immediately reach a bipartisan budget deal to lift the
artificial and unrealistically low budget caps that were set in law in
2011. It is hard to get every Member of this Chamber to agree on
anything, but on this, we can agree: Sequester has had a negative
impact on our country that will impact a generation. We need to have an
honest conversation about what the needs of our country are, both in
military and domestic spending, and draft our spending bills
I do appreciate the work that Senator McCain and Senator Reed have
put into this massive legislation. While my concerns with the funding
levels authorized in this bill prevent me from supporting it, I do
believe it reflects a strong commitment to the programs and policies
that support our service members and their families. That must always
be our goal.
I am pleased that the conferenced bill maintains support for medical
research that matter so much to our servicemembers and to all Americans
who benefit from the lifesaving results made possible through these
programs. I am also grateful for the inclusion of language I authored
that would pave the way for piloting a preventative mental health
program for our National Guard and Reserve. Like physical health, we
know that, with particular training and mental preparation, a person
can be more resilient mentally when faced with challenges, and building
that readiness is necessary to maintain the all-volunteer force.
Progress is already being made with shifting to a preventative model in
the Special Forces community. I hope to soon see similar progress in
developing models for the members of our Guard and Reserve.
This final bill also includes several amendments I proposed to make
sure U.S. efforts, especially in Afghanistan, are consistent with U.S.
values. These include a provision aimed at improving the way the
Departments of Defense and State provide human rights training to
partner forces, and a requirement to establish a plan on how to improve
our ability to help foreign governments protect civilians. The final
bill also authorizes establishment of a position in the Department of
Defense to oversee its implementation of and coordination with the
Department of State on the Leahy law for human rights vetting for
Afghan security forces.
In 3 weeks and 1 day, the current resolution funding our government
will expire; yet, instead of sitting down with Democrats to work
together, just as we did earlier this year to enact the fiscal year
2017 omnibus spending bill, to find a path forward to raise the budget
caps and fund our government for the rest of the fiscal year,
Republicans are focused on a tax cut bill that will add $1.5 trillion
to the debt. Instead of acting responsibly and in the greatest
traditions of the Senate, the majority is marching towards another
partisan fight on the floor on a deeply flawed tax bill that will
impact every corner of our economy.
Let's get to work for the American people. For months, have been
calling for a bipartisan budget deal to lift the caps on both sides for
both defense and nondefense programs based on parity. It is time to
complete those negotiations. We owe it to the men and women who serve.
We owe it to the American people.
Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that all time be
considered yielded back.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
Without objection, it is so ordered.
The question is on agreeing to the conference report.
The conference report was agreed to.