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Providing for Consideration of Conference Report on HR 4310, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McGOVERN. I want to thank the gentleman from Utah for the time, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in opposition to the underlying bill, the National Defense Authorization bill.

I recognize and appreciate all of the hard work that went into crafting this conference report--on both sides of the aisle. I commend Chairman McKeon and Ranking Member Smith and all their staffs for all of the work that they have done. I especially appreciate that the final version of the bill includes a modified version of the Merkley amendment on Afghanistan that was approved by the United States Senate, but unfortunately, the final product contains policies that I simply cannot support.

The bill increases funding--beyond the Pentagon's request--for several programs, including a new missile defense base on the east coast. The bill also denies the Pentagon the opportunity to save money with its failure to include a cut to the contractor comp cap, its failure to include a round of base closures, and its failure to implement end-strength troop reductions even though we are supposedly ending our involvement in two wars.

At a time when Congress is being asked to look for savings, even considering cutting vital programs like Social Security, it is unconscionable to me that we would continue to mandate wasteful funding that the military has said it does not need and does not want. How can we look into the eyes of a senior citizen who is living off of Social Security and tell him that his cost-of-living adjustment will be smaller so that we can buy weapons that the military doesn't even want?

Also very troubling to me is that this bill continues to prevent the President from fulfilling his commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp by imposing unnecessary and ill-advised transfer restrictions. Mr. Speaker, I am proud to serve as the cochair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. We constantly and appropriately criticize other countries for their lack of transparency and adherence to the rule of law. The continued existence of Guantanamo undermines our standing around the world. The President has said repeatedly that he wants to close Guantanamo. There is broad bipartisan support among national security experts for him to do so. Congress just needs to get out of the way.

Mr. Speaker, while I support a great deal of this bill, especially programs and services for our veterans and military retirees, I cannot support a bill this large when we are in the middle of negotiations on the so-called ``fiscal cliff.'' The Pentagon is more willing than this Congress to look at the defense budget and make thoughtful but significant reductions. This bill continues to show that, when it comes to defense spending, Congress is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

I would like to insert into the Record an article that appeared in today's Washington Post by Walter Pincus, entitled, ``Military funds to spare?,'' in which he quotes Secretary of Defense Panetta in a speech. He said that the committees here in the Congress ``had diverted about $74 billion of what we asked for in savings in our proposed budget to the Congress, and they diverted them to other areas that, frankly, we don't need.'' That is from the Secretary of Defense.

I would also like to insert into the Record a letter to the President that was sent to Members of Congress as well, urging that he veto the National Defense Authorization Act because it extends restrictions on transferring detainees out of the Guantanamo prison.

Mr. Speaker, let me just conclude my opening here by saying that I want a defense second to none. I believe that we need to do whatever we need to do to protect the citizens of this country, but just throwing more money at the Pentagon doesn't mean that you're getting a stronger defense. Expanding the bloat and the waste in the Pentagon does nothing to enhance our national security. We need a new definition of ``national security,'' one that includes things like jobs for our citizens, one that includes access to a good quality education, one that includes a strong infrastructure, one that includes good health care for everybody in this country, an end to homelessness, and an end to hunger in the United States of America.

I say this because, after we debate this rule, we're going to take up another rule dealing with the so-called ``Plan B'' and ``Plan C,'' and maybe there's a Plan D and a Plan E, who knows. What is particularly troublesome to me is that, in the tax version of what the Republicans are going to bring to the floor later, it includes things like ending programs that benefit middle-income families and poor families.

Under their proposal, 25 million working families with tens of millions of children will pay an average of $1,000 more in taxes. That's not fair. That undermines the economic security of that family.

Under their proposal, 11 million families would lose a tax credit that helps pay for college. How is that in our security? We're told time and time again by all of the experts that, in order for us to continue to be an economic global power, we need a well-educated workforce. So what are they proposing? That 11 million families lose their tax credits to help pay for college.

Fifty million seniors and other Medicare enrollees' health care would be jeopardized as doctors face a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments under this proposal. That's just the tax version of what they're proposing. We haven't even gotten to what they're proposing in terms of spending cuts.

So here we are, talking about a Defense Authorization Act that is more money than our Pentagon wants, that is more money than our Joint Chiefs of Staff want, that is more money than the Secretary of Defense wants. As we're doing this, we're telling the American people that we have to lower your cost-of-living adjustment on Social Security, that we have to lower your quality of health care, that we have to cut some money from housing programs, that we have to cut SNAP and food stamps so that you won't have enough to eat.

This is crazy. This is crazy. So, yes, we're all for a military and a defense second to none, but I will tell you that some of our biggest threats are not halfway around the world--they're halfway down the block. We have to start paying attention to what's happening in this country, so I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this bill.

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

First of all, we have air superiority over every country in the world. We have the strongest military in the world, and I'm proud of the men and women who serve in our military.

But, you know, we have to make choices here. I mean, do we really need all these troops deployed in Europe that have been there basically since World War II? I mean, I don't think Germany is going to invade France any time soon or Russia is going to invade Poland, but yet we have a huge amount of deployed American forces in Europe. Maybe we need to have a discussion about whether or not we need that, whether or not we can afford that expense, whether or not it does anything to enhance our security.

Again, I want a military that is the best in the world. I want them to continue to be that way. I want them to be second to none. I want to make sure that we have all that we need, but I don't want to be investing in things we don't need. And when the Joint Chiefs of Staff and when the Secretary of Defense and all of the experts tell us that they don't need something, and we here appropriate money to keep something going that is unnecessary, that is unwanted, at the same time while you're trying to cut the benefits of some poor old lady on Social Security, there's something wrong with this equation. We have to start thinking about the security of people here in this country as well.

What we're going to do right after this is take up a rule that is going to gut a whole bunch of programs that, quite frankly, keep people from falling through the cracks--everything from food stamps to child nutrition programs to education programs. Anything that helps anybody who's in need is going to get walloped after the next rule is passed, with a tax plan that is so blatantly unfair that I can't even believe that my friends are bringing it to the floor of the House for a debate.

So, you know, let's talk about what we need to do to maintain the security of our people in this country. We need a strong military. We need to meet the challenges abroad, but we also need to meet the challenges here in the United States of America. We need to focus on things like jobs and affordable housing, making sure that people have the ladders of opportunity so they can succeed. So that's where I object.

This bill is more than the people at the Pentagon want. We're just throwing more money at this, and I think it's a mistake.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I'd like to yield 3 minutes to the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson Lee).

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, this is a moment of opportunity for us to get serious about dealing with our budget deficit by eliminating the bloat and the waste in the Pentagon's budget.

What we have before us has some very good provisions in it, but it also has some very bad provisions in it. The gentlelady from California mentioned the language on Guantanamo, which is unfortunate. But this bill also reflects more money--more money--than the Pentagon even wants, more money than the Joint Chiefs of Staff wants. So we're throwing more money into this Pentagon budget even though they haven't asked for it and they don't want it.

At the same time, my friends on the other side of the aisle are proposing measures--which are going to be taken up in the next rule--to decimate the social safety net in this country, to make it more difficult for middle-income families, to make it more difficult to send your kids to school, to make it more difficult to get affordable housing, or to get access to food and nutrition if you are in desperate times.

So it just doesn't make any sense to me. I mean, the idea that we're giving more money to the Pentagon than they want, but at the same time we're taking away from our people right here at home.

National security has to mean the quality of life and the standard of living for the people of the United States of America. It has to mean things like jobs and financial security for our families.

I regret very much that my friends on the other side of the aisle seem to not care about what happens to people here in this country because their budgets and their tax bills go directly after middle-income families and constitute an all-out war on the poor.

There was an article in The Washington Post on December 19: ``John Boehner's Plan B Would Raise Taxes on the Poor.'' Really? I mean, is that how you're going to balance the budget, by sticking it to people who already are in vulnerable times? This is wrong.

My friends talk about the debt and the deficit, but what they don't talk about is that we have fought two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and we haven't paid for it, all on our credit card. We send our young men and women into harm's way, and we ask them and their families to sacrifice, and we do nothing. We just put the bill on our credit card.

A few months ago, the chairman of the Budget Committee, Mr. Ryan, said it's about $1.3 trillion--I think he's lowballing it--but $1.3 trillion on our debt, and nobody over there says a word. They all go after programs like Social Security and Medicare and food stamps.

So, Mr. Speaker, I ask that we defeat the previous question. If we defeat the previous question, I will offer an amendment to this rule to make in order an amendment that will allow the House to have a chance to vote on a bill passed by the Senate to extend middle class tax cuts, which has been introduced in the House as H.R. 15. Also, the amendment would prevent this House from adjourning until we have averted the fiscal cliff and the President has signed legislation to prevent tax increases on the middle class.

There is a rumor out there that my friends on the other side of the aisle are going to try to pass Plan B and C and run out of town and just leave for vacation. I want to get home for Christmas as much as anyone else, but the bottom line is that we are facing a crisis--an artificial crisis that my friends helped create, but we need to avert it.

Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to insert the text of the amendment into the Record, along with extraneous material, immediately prior to the vote on the previous question.

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' and defeat the previous question. I urge a ``no'' vote on the rule.

I would again remind my colleagues that national security and national defense also has to mean the quality of life for people here in the United States.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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