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Public Statements

Defense Authorization

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Madam President, we have again witnessed gridlock at its worst on the heels of the vote that just concluded. When the Senate was given a chance to lead on critical issues crucial to our national security, to our troops and to our leadership in the 21st century, the Senate let politics obstruct progress that we should make.

This is the second time this year we have prevented ourselves, if you will, from debating critical national security issues. Like so many other debates that we wanted to have this year, this one was derailed by obstruction before it even began.

The last time the minority party blocked debate of a national defense authorization act, they argued that the DREAM Act should not be considered as an amendment to the bill and that we needed to wait on the report of the Pentagon study group on how to repeal don't ask, don't tell before we can vote on the broader bill.

This time we did consider the DREAM Act in a separate vote and this time, after voting today, we voted after the Pentagon's task force on don't ask, don't tell has weighed in with the most comprehensive review of a personnel policy that DOD has ever conducted on any policy being proposed. But the obstruction continues. There are new excuses this time. Opponents now say we need to extend tax breaks before we can consider legislation necessary to ensure our national security. It doesn't seem to matter to those who voted no today that the Pentagon study group looking at repeal confirmed what many of us have been saying for years, that don't ask, don't tell can be overturned without disrupting our Nation's military readiness. It doesn't seem to matter to these opponents that Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, and a host of other military and civilian leaders believe that repeal by a Federal judge would be far more disruptive and damaging to readiness and morale than repeal through legislation that has been thoughtfully and comprehensively drafted by the Congress.

This wide-ranging and highly respected group of military and civilian leaders has strongly urged us, the Senate, to act on this Defense authorization bill this month.

Unlike what some on the other side of the aisle have claimed, the repeal language in this legislation respects the Pentagon's timeline and it gives our military leaders the flexibility they say they need to implement repeal in a way that tracks with military standards and guidelines. The best way to change the policy is for elected representatives--that is us--to pass the legislation before us now and to do it this year.

But the vote we just had means we will have no debate on don't ask, don't tell. And just as importantly--and I know the Presiding Officer serves on the Foreign Relations Committee--it thwarts a serious discussion about pressing national security issues. Imagine that. We are prevented from debating fundamental national security concerns at a time of two wars. People in my State of Colorado do not understand such obstruction, and I do not think Americans all across the country do.

This is further illuminated because every year for nearly a half century, Congress has taken up and passed a bill renewing our defense policies for the Nation for the coming year. That is 48 years consecutively. And this Defense authorization bill, like all those that came before it, is as critically important as the 48 that have preceded it. It provides funding for our military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq. It supports our servicemembers and keeps Americans safe through needed resources and policies, including fair and competitive pay and benefits for our men and women in uniform.

The bill also includes many important provisions directed at the health and needs of our servicemembers' families. Specifically, if I might, I want to mention a provision I authored with help from other of my colleagues which would extend health insurance for military families, enabling children of active-duty servicemembers and retirees to stay on their parents' policies until they turn age 26. It is similar to what we did in the Affordable Care Act last year and this year more broadly for Americans.

Also importantly, this legislation provides improved care for our wounded servicemembers and their families--not just the physical wounds of war but also the mental wounds of war.

As I conclude, I have to tell you I remain hopeful that somehow this Congress can find a way, even in the midst of this partisan rancor, to pass this Defense authorization bill for the 49th consecutive year. I am willing to stay until Christmas, even through Christmas, and the week after, to get this done.

I will tell you, if we cannot get don't ask, don't tell repeal as part of the Defense authorization bill, I am willing to stay through the holidays to debate it on the floor as a stand-alone measure, and I will urge my colleagues to join me in that debate.

So despite the vote today, I have to say I am optimistic about our future, and I am committed, as I know the Presiding Officer is, to a new kind of politics where we can find consensus among our disagreement. I know the people of our States and Americans at large want us to tackle tough decisions. It is why they sent us here: to resolve the tough problems. But I think opportunities that are inherent in those problems led us to want to serve in the Nation's capital.

Let's reach out to each other. Let's find common ground. Let's call on each other to work together to accomplish our shared priorities and demonstrate support for our Armed Forces. After all, they are standing up for us. We can stand up for them. Americans sent us here to do no less.

Madam President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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