Ms. McCOLLUM. Mr. Speaker, I am deeply disappointed that I must rise in opposition to the Conference Report on H.R. 4310, the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act. America's men and women in uniform deserve, and Congress must pass, legislation that provides them with the resources they need to preserve our national security. Unfortunately, this bill does not reflect the range of 21st-Century threats the United States must prepare for, nor does it reflect the urgent fiscal crisis this Congress must address. What this massive $633 billion defense bill does reflect, however, are disastrously misplaced priorities.
On May 10th of this year, House Republicans passed the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act (H.R. 5652), which exempts the Pentagon from $55 billion in automatic spending cuts agreed to in last year's Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). How did they propose to do it? By cutting over $310 billion from domestic programs. These were cuts to nutrition assistance programs for low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families; cuts that will deny more than 200,000 low-income children their school lunches; cuts to the Meals on Wheels program critical to disabled seniors, and cuts to programs that protect vulnerable and abused children. These will have a real and severe impact on American families. Instead of asking the Pentagon to make tough choices and eliminate wasteful spending programs, House Republicans would rather balance the budget on the backs of our Nation's most vulnerable citizens.
Here is just one example of Pentagon spending that House Republicans are protecting by cutting programs for low-income children, seniors, and working families: in this fiscal year, the Department of Defense plans to spend $389 million for its 150 military bands and more than 5,000 full-time, professional military musicians. This is a prime example of excessive military spending that we simply do not need, and can no longer afford. Earlier this year, the House passed my bipartisan amendment to this bill limiting the amount the military spends annually on military bands to no more than $200 million--not an insignificant sum. I am very disappointed to see that this language was not included in the Conference Report. This smart cut would have continued to provided $200 million for military bands in fiscal year 2013, ensuring that America would maintain its strong tradition of military bands, while saving taxpayers $2 billion over the next decade.
Lastly, the Conference Report does virtually nothing to correct the civil liberties abuses passed in last year's defense authorization bill. House and Senate Conferees stripped a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Lee (R-UT) which would have helped ensure that no one can be denied a fair trial and detained indefinitely when they are captured in the United States. I am appalled that this commonsense amendment to protect the most basic American civil liberties was not included in the legislation before us today.
Mr. Speaker, there are several positive provisions of this bill that I support, including the continuance of DOD clean energy programs, lifting restrictions on servicewomen's access to reproductive health care, and addressing military sexual assault. It also takes steps that would help eliminate hazing in the military and prevents any increase in new TRICARE fees. Unfortunately, the underlying legislation contains too much wasteful spending and does not correct the egregious human abuses that were part of the fiscal year 2012 bill.
One of our primary duties as Members of Congress is to provide the resources and policy guidance necessary to protect our Nation. We must make certain that every dollar in this bill contributes to our national defense. It is time for tough choices and smart cuts that save taxpayer dollars, even at the Pentagon. Wasteful and excessive Pentagon spending is no longer acceptable as low income families, seniors, and disabled Americans to go without the critical services.
I urge my colleagues oppose this legislation.