Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) today voted against FY2012 Defense Authorization bill. Although Himes has voted in favor of such authorization bills in the past, he opposed today's bill because it gives the President unbridled new military authority, it increases defense expenditures, and it includes no plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.
"The Authorization of Military Force provision of this bill gives the President unprecedented and nearly unlimited power to wage war anywhere in the world, at any time, without Congressional approval. The President himself, a constitutional scholar, strongly opposed this dangerous provision," said Himes, "It also increases baseline defense spending and includes no plans to wind down our presence in Afghanistan. I will always stand unconditionally with our troops and for our security. But having just attended a memorial service for Spc. David Fahey and met his family, I will not vote for a bill which eliminates Congress' oversight of war making and which will make the tragedy of Spc. Fahey's death much more common in the future."
Today the U.S. House of Representatives considered H.R. 1514, the National Defense Spending Authorization Act. Dozens of amendments to the bill were offered, but important provisions that would have protected Congress' power to oversee military action, reduce defense spending or draw down troops in Afghanistan failed.
Himes voted in favor of an amendment that required ground troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving just those who are involved in small, targeted counter-terrorism operations within 60 days. It also requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a withdrawal plan to Congress within 60 days.
Additionally, Himes offered his own amendment to help cut defense spending and reduce the deficit. The Defense Authorization bill requires that inherently governmental functions currently being performed by contractors instead be performed by civilian employees within the department. The Himes Amendment would have required that any cost savings resulting from this shift be used to pay down the deficit rather than spent on alternative defense programs. The amendment failed, with a majority of Republicans and some Democrats opposing the measure, despite their purported support for deficit reduction.
"Reaching the debt limit last week was a stark reminder of the consequences of ballooning federal spending, and committing cost savings to deficit reduction is the first step toward returning to a fiscally sustainable budget," Himes said. "I have voted for painful cuts to programs that matter to my constituents. At a time of severe fiscal stress, I can't vote to increase defense spending beyond its current levels, which already exceed the amounts spent by every other country on the planet combined."
Most egregious, however, was a provision in the Defense Authorization that amounts to an abdication by Congress of its Article I Constitutional duties resulting in unprecedented turnover of war powers to the president. This language re-characterizes the scope of the United States' action in Afghanistan and eliminates Congress' ability to limit a Declaration of War by time, geography, or even any requirement of any harm or threat of harm to the national security interests of the United States. This could commit the United States to a worldwide war without clear enemies, and without any boundary relating to time, location, or specific objective to be achieved. Despite a veto threat issued by President Obama in opposition to this change, an amendment to strike the provision failed.