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National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2009--Motion To Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I first wish to congratulate my colleague of some 30 years that we have worked together on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Under his leadership this year, we passed the 2008 bill unanimously by the committee in April. Here we are in September, and we are finally getting to the opportunity presented to our colleagues and, hopefully, this week we will act on this bill.

Earlier this afternoon, the distinguished majority leader and the minority leader addressed the Senate on their express hope that this bill will be acted on expeditiously and done so within this week. That will require, however, in my judgment--and I speak only for myself--a unanimous consent request relating to the amendment process. We are anxious to receive amendments from our colleagues, but unless we maintain some order in terms of relevant amendments, I am fearful we will not be able to expeditiously handle this bill. That is a matter that is now being quite fairly and forthrightly worked upon by the respective majority and minority leaders, and certainly my distinguished colleague, Senator Levin, and I have discussed this together and have a joint recommendation for our leadership.

I also wish to express my appreciation to our professional staff, both majority and minority, who have worked on this bill throughout the summer. Such that on the assumption that we can pass it and then get to a conference we will have beforehand reconciled some of the differences between--that is on an informal basis, but on a formal basis, we will be able to reconcile in a conference this bill and then bring it back in the form of a conference report.

This will be the forty-third--bill No. 43--consecutive authorization bill adopted by the Senate. I am hopeful the unbroken record of 42 consecutive times will now be the 43rd, and that puts the Senate clearly on record as supporting the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States who most justly deserve all the support we can give them. I point out that we have a specific constitutional responsibility toward the men and women of the Armed Forces. It is this bill, coupled with such appropriations as may be acted upon by other committees--this is the discharge of our constitutional responsibility.

We are at a very dangerous crossroads in the history of the world. Our forces today are fighting in two theaters--Iraq and Afghanistan--and are standing watch on many other theaters and outposts across the world. They are facing the threats of militant extremists at home, worldwide, abroad, in all corners of the globe. We are also astounded by the performance of what heretofore we thought was a supporting partner in world affairs--Russia--by virtue of their aggressions in Georgia, and the instability in Pakistan, a major non-NATO ally but nevertheless a major ally. Hopefully, with the election of a new President, that country can begin to govern itself strongly because it is very important, with our forces on the border of Pakistan and our operations against the insurgents and the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is essential we have the strongest of working relationships with Pakistan. Then we have, unfortunately, the nuclear ambitions and the hostile behavior of Iran. All of those propose a profound and wide-ranging challenge for U.S. interests and our friends and our allies in the international community as a whole.

We are fortunate today that the people in the United States of America are so supportive of our Armed Forces. I have had the privilege to observe this Nation in previous conflicts beginning in World War II. In World War II 16 million men and women of the Armed Forces were greeted when they returned home from a solid victory against the axis powers, as well as those of the Pacific. Then, following the Korean conflict, again I had the opportunity to observe firsthand the deterioration of the support in the many respects it was given to the Armed Forces who fought so bravely in that conflict. I pause to think that we have celebrated the 55th anniversary of that conflict. Over 30,000 Americans--Americans in uniform--lost their lives in that conflict. Another 90,000 were wounded. Today, currently, 8,000 are still unaccounted for.

So we have a different attitude today. In Vietnam, we likewise experienced a lot of antagonism against the men and women of the Armed Forces. Today, this country is united behind those men and women and giving support to their brave families.

We have also had the good fortune for 35 years to have an All-Volunteer Force. This bill is constructed to continue that support of the All-Volunteer Force. I can recall, in the Vietnam period, I was privileged to be Secretary of the Navy--Under Secretary for some 5 years--that the constricted force experienced a lot of problems. It was during that period in 1973, I remember vividly that the then-Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, had the vision to have the All-Volunteer Force. It eventually came into law with the support of the Congress. It was a major gamble, I say to my colleagues--a major gamble. It was the first significant large military power in the world--the United States of America--to try and have this national security policy, this national security defended by all volunteers, but it has worked and worked well beyond the early concepts we had in mind. It has been a superb military force that has preserved America's freedom.

We also have in this bill a reflection on the future needs of our Armed Forces. This bill will provide better compensation and first-rate health care to improve the quality of life of the men and women on Active Duty and in the National Guard and Reserve and their families. I will enumerate a number of provisions in this bill that address those issues.

We also authorize Active Duty end strengths, increases for the Army to go to 532,000-plus and for the Marine Corps, 194,000-plus, respectively. We authorize an increase of 3,371 full-time personnel for the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. We authorize the costs of special pay and allowances, death benefits, and permanent change of station moves. It authorizes $26 billion for the Defense Health Program. It requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive policy to prevent, regrettably, the increasing rate of suicides.

So I say to my colleagues, this bill is absolutely essential--absolutely essential--and it provides the statutory authorities that our men and women of the Armed Forces need to succeed in combat and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We will authorize those funds necessary to seek to reduce our Nation's strategic risks by taking action to restore, as soon as possible, the readiness
of the military services to conduct the full range of their assigned missions. I wish to correct that by saying by taking the action aimed at fully restoring, since much of our military is in a state of high readiness today.

This bill will improve the efficiency of Defense Department programs and activities, promote the transformation of the Armed Forces to deal with the threats of the 21st century, and improve the ability of the Armed Forces to counter nontraditional threats, including terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In addition, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 includes authorization of $24.8 billion in Division B for military construction, BRAC, and family housing programs. Because MILCON projects require a line item authorization by law, and considered new-starts, DOD will not be able to carry out any new project in fiscal year 2009 if this bill is not enacted.

Of the 24.8 billion, $11.7 billion is for military construction, $3.2 billion for the construction and operation of family housing, and $9.1 billion to implement the results of the 2005 BRAC.

Within the BRAC account, 282 projects are at risk across the country, including critical construction to establish new hospitals at the Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD; Fort Belvior, VA; and Fort Sam Houston, TX, to facilitate the closure of inadequate facilities at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC. Other critical BRAC construction at Fort Bliss, TX, and Fort Benning, GA, is required to facilitate the return of U.S. forces from overseas locations and the establishment of new modular units. Also BRAC construction at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, is required to support the joint Air Force and Navy training.

In closing, this is an important bill that takes care of our troops and their families. It sustains a national treasure, the All Volunteer Force, and authorizes funding for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy.

I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of the motion to proceed to the Defense authorization bill for the sake of the men and women in uniform and in spirit of Article I, section 8 of the Constitution that assigns to Congress the powers ``to raise and support Armies'' and ``to provide and maintain a Navy.''

Mr. President, I defer to our distinguished Chairman. Again, I congratulate the chairman on bringing this bill to the floor.

I yield the floor.


Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I thank my distinguished colleague for his kind remarks. I should also wish to join him in thanking the members of our committee. We have had an excellent committee, and we have a very bipartisan, professional staff. I am sure we can do the job. I will point out one additional feature--military construction. I daresay that almost every Member of this body has a provision somewhere in this bill relating to military construction. Without passage of the bill, that simply will not take place.

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