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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Today, the Senate begins consideration of the conference report to accompany this year's national defense authorization bill providing our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families with the support they need and deserve. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly, especially during a time of war. It is a responsibility my good friend and colleague Senator Levin understands very well. I thank and commend Senator Levin for his skill in shepherding this bill through the conference process in a bipartisan fashion. I thank Senator Levin for his leadership. I thank him for his commitment to the men and women who are serving in the military and the long relationship we have enjoyed working together as colleagues in that effort.
The conference report largely supports the defense priorities laid out by Secretary Gates and authorizes over $550 billion in base program funding for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy.
Additionally, the legislation authorizes over $129 billion in overseas contingency operations funding for ongoing activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other regional operations and support of the war on terrorism.
The conference report demonstrates our bipartisan support for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families and provides them with the pay, benefits, equipment, and training they need and deserve.
The report increases benefits for our wounded warriors and provides an across-the-board pay raise for our military.
The report terminates production of the F-22 aircraft, contains no funding for additional C-17 cargo aircraft, provides full funding for procurement of 30 Joint Strike Fighters, and fully authorizes funding to train and equip the Afghan National Army and police forces.
I am disappointed that we are unable to eliminate funding for the continued development of the alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. As Secretary Gates said, ``This program is unnecessary and could disrupt the overall JSF Program by diverting resources away from efforts needed for the continuation of that program.''
During the more than 20 years Senator Levin and I have worked together, we have had our share of respectful disagreements, and this year is no exception. I strongly disagree with the majority's decision to include hate crimes legislation in the national defense authorization bill. I have consistently opposed attaching hate crimes legislation to the national defense authorization bill in years past. This year, I again objected to the inclusion of this nongermane, nonrelevant language as an amendment to the defense authorization bill when the bill was being considered on the floor of the Senate. Today, I remain strongly opposed to its inclusion in the conference report. The defense authorization bill is not the appropriate vehicle for consideration of hate crimes legislation. It is not germane to the work of the Armed Services Committee. The stand-alone legislation, S. 909, has not even been considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it could have been debated, modified, improved, and brought to the floor of the Senate. What we are doing here is an abuse of the Senate process.
I also object to the language itself because it would create a new Federal crime for willfully causing bodily injury to any person due to the actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, or gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability of any person.
I do not believe an expansion of the Federal criminal code is necessary to cover a certain class of citizens from ``perceived injustices.''
Let me tell you one of the biggest problems I have here. We have now seen a virtual disappearance of authorization bills for various functions of government from Senate consideration. We have done that because extraneous and nongermane issues have been raised on those authorization bills. I don't remember the last time we had authorization bills for foreign operations out of the Foreign Relations Committee. I don't know when we have had authorization for other branches of government. The reason is because they always get bogged down in extraneous amendments on both sides. I am not placing the blame on the other side. I am placing the blame on both sides. This then bogs down the legislation which then, because of the exigencies of time, means we are not able to address the proper authorizing process for many functions of government. That, then, throws it all into the appropriations process. Of course, that is now an enormous shift of power and authority and responsibility from the authorizing committees, in whom the responsibility should lie, to the appropriating committees which are simply only supposed to appropriate money for previously authorized functions of government. I worry a great deal about that.
The only bill that has been consistently passed for many years through the Senate and into law is the Defense authorization bill. The Defense authorization bill is vital. We are now starting a very dangerous precedent by adding a very large and controversial provision, which is nongermane and nonrelated to defense, to a Defense authorization bill.
As my friend Senator Levin will point out, there have been other times where provisions have been added to this bill which were nongermane. Nothing of this magnitude, nothing of the controversy that is associated with the hate crimes legislation which was tacked on to this bill without any consideration in the committee itself. There was no committee consideration. When the bill came to the floor, bang, the first amendment out of the box was the hate crimes legislation which, of course, tied up the legislation for some days.
I understand the realities around here. I know what majority votes are. I know what majority membership in this body means. It was jammed through. I want to tell my colleagues, if we allow hate crimes to be added to this Defense authorization bill, what is next? What pet project or legislation on the part of the majority leader or the majority will be included in the next authorization bill?
If this legislation is signed into law, it will force police and prosecutors to treat identical crimes differently depending on a police officer or prosecutor's determination of the political, gender, philosophical, or even religious beliefs of the offender. Our legal system is based on identifying, capturing, and punishing criminals, not on using the power of government to divine biases. Crimes motivated by hate deserve vigorous prosecution, and I strongly support punishing those who commit such heinous acts under existing laws. Moreover, I am committed to a full and transparent debate on the issue. But I strongly oppose using the men and women of the military as the vehicle to pass this controversial and partisan legislation.
The Detroit News editorialized:
Certainly, threats of violence or violence against individuals for any reason should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Not, however, because the victims are members of a particular race or sex, adherents of a particular religion or are gay. These crimes should be punished because the victims are uniquely valuable individuals who deserve the protection of the law solely on that basis. The idea of special prosecutions for ``hate crimes'' is inherently divisive.
I am pleased the conference report does retain some legislative language offered by Senator Brownback during Senate debate on the bill. The Brownback language clarifies that nothing in the hate crimes legislation language shall be construed as an infringement on Americans' first amendment rights. Additionally, his amendment ensures that nothing in the hate crimes language should be construed to overturn ``the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993'' that ensures our laws do not substantially burden Americans' free exercise of their religion.
The majority had the votes in July to add hate crimes to the Senate bill, and I am sure the majority will again have the votes today to invoke cloture on the conference report containing hate crimes language. It is indeed, unfortunate, that we are using the brave men and women in uniform as leverage to pass hate crimes legislation.
This legislation should have gone through the Judiciary Committee. That is the oversight committee. That is the committee of jurisdiction. I know my colleagues who are here on the floor will be justifying this legislation on the grounds of how badly it is needed. I say to the majority, who controls the legislative schedule here, they could have had this bill through the Judiciary Committee and on the floor of the Senate and passed in the Senate in the proper fashion and not put hate crimes on a bill that cares for the men and women serving in the military today. I worry a great deal about the precedent we will be setting by including an incredibly controversial piece of legislation in the Defense authorization bill which provides for our first and foremost obligation, and that is to secure the safety and welfare of our fellow citizens.
Finally, I believe it is important to note that the Defense authorization bill has been the only authorization bill that the U.S. Congress has consistently passed every year. Other authorization bills have often fallen under the weight of provisions inserted into must-pass bills that are not relevant to the legislation and highly controversial. The lives of our men and men serving abroad literally depend on our ability to consistently and reliably pass this authorization bill every year. I am not willing to take a gamble with our troops. For these reasons I cannot in good conscience vote to support the motion to invoke cloture on this bill, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
Prior to the final vote on passage of the conference report, I plan to speak in more detail about the overall bill and the commitment we have made in this conference report to do everything possible to ensure our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines receive the support they deserve and need, as well as a message we need to send those brave men and women and their families whom we support and stand behind.
I will vote against cloture. I will vote for final passage of the legislation in deference to our need to care for the men and women who are serving. I also would point out that if cloture is not invoked, we could immediately pass a resolution reconvening the conference and get this bill done today. But that is not going to happen, unfortunately.
I yield the floor.
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