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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Madam President, like many Americans, I am frustrated with the gridlock in the Senate, and I am very concerned by our dysfunctionality, witnessed once again here today. When we were asked to lead on critical issues facing our men and women in uniform, our troops--also tied to our national security and our international leadership in the 21st century--the Senate has once again taken a pass, has once again let politics obstruct our progress.

Coloradans sent me here to lead, like they sent the Presiding Officer here from her great State of North Carolina, and to find solutions to problems however vexing. I, for one, am increasingly tired of the partisan wrangling that besets each and every issue.

This debate, like so many others we have attempted to have, was derailed by obstructionism before it even began. Now, I realize some will say they scuttled this critical Defense bill in part because the majority leader announced he expected to have a vote on the DREAM Act, which, by the way, would allow young, undocumented immigrants a chance to attend college and serve in our military. They were brought here to this country through no decision they made as very young people.

But I have to tell you, I think it was about more than just that. In my humble opinion, the issues mattered far less than the politics. There has been a concerted effort to prevent or stall debate on nearly every major bill this year, and, sadly, a bill dealing with our troops is not free from the same tactics.

There is no reason we should not have a debate on any issue, let alone a vote, and the DREAM Act is no exception. I know the Presiding Officer and I joined the Senate at the same time. We heard about how the Senate is the world's greatest deliberative body. If you do not deliberate, what does that make us?

I also know that repeal of don't ask, don't tell is a contentious subject, and it has also been used as an excuse to sink this very important bill. But, I have to tell you, I think this is an outdated, discriminatory policy that undermines the strength of our military and the basic fairness upon which our great Nation was built. At a time when we are fighting two wars, we need every skilled servicemember we have: airmen, mechanics, translators, and all the many other specialties our military serve in.

Unlike what some on the other side of the aisle have claimed, the language in this bill repealing don't ask, don't tell respects the Pentagon's timeline and gives our military leaders flexibility to implement repeal in a way that tracks with military standards and guidelines. As Admiral Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee--the Presiding Officer remembers what a powerful day that was--he said repealing don't ask, don't tell is the ``right thing to do.''

Unfortunately, political debate and disagreement has prevented us from having this important discussion on how best to support our troops, plus thwarted a serious discussion about numerous pressing national security issues. I am disappointed in the partisanship, but I have to tell you, I am even more disappointed in the disservice to the men and women in uniform that today's inaction has caused.

Our American citizens, our constituents, our friends and neighbors face difficult decisions in their lives every day, but many here in Washington bristle at the notion that they face hard choices. They say taking votes on certain issues will be too difficult, that the politics are too tough, or that they cannot stomach the thought of losing. But Americans have not run away from hard decisions in the past. What about us? This place is a forum--or it should be a forum--where we can work together.

But, today, with the Senate blocking this bill, I fear our national security and our troops will suffer. Every year for nearly a half century--I think accurately put, 49 years consecutively--Congress has taken up and passed a bill that renews, in some cases reforms, and in other cases replaces our defense policies.

This Defense authorization bill, like all those that came before it--the previous 49 Defense authorization bills--is critically important. It provides funding for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. It supports our servicemembers who keep America safe by including fair pay and benefits for our men and women in uniform.

Preventing this debate keeps us from pushing forward with this bill's provisions to enhance our military's readiness, improve our servicemembers' training, and upgrade equipment and resources to succeed in combat. We are also leaving behind provisions in the bill to strengthen our nonproliferation programs and enable the reduction of our nuclear weapons stockpile while ensuring the stockpile has continued reliability.

We are foregoing the crucial opportunity--I know the Presiding Officer has believed this is very important as well--to increase the Pentagon's use of alternative energy technologies and fuels to improve the Department's efficiency and energy security.

The bill also includes so many important provisions for the health and resiliency--both mental and physical--of our servicemembers and their families. Specifically, it includes a provision I authored extending health insurance for military families, enabling the children of Active-Duty servicemembers and retirees to stay on their parents' plans until the age of 26--similar to what we did in the Health Care Reform Act for the civilian sector. Importantly, the bill provides improved care for our wounded servicemembers and their families.

As part of a longer term effort to treat both the physical and the unseen mental wounds of war, I have been reviewing the Army's report on Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention, which was published earlier this summer. One passage particularly struck me:

In just six years, Soldiers experience the equivalent of a lifetime when compared to their civilian counterparts.

In other words, at the age of 24, the average soldier has moved multiple times, been deployed around the world, married and had children, seen death, had financial and relationship problems, is responsible for dozens of soldiers, and gets paid less than $40,000 a year.

The lives of average soldiers bear no resemblance whatsoever to ours. Their sacrifices are far beyond what many of us can imagine, and we have demanded so much of them for so long. That is why I have continued to focus my efforts on how we can help our brave service men and women suffering from mental wounds when they come home.

Fort Carson in Colorado has had its share of difficulties addressing the needs of our soldiers, but we are seeing real progress. I am particularly proud of what Fort Carson has been doing in the way of providing behavioral health care to soldiers not just when they get back home but also while they are still on the battlefield.

That is the essence of Fort Carson's Mobile Behavioral Health Teams, which embed credentialed behavioral health providers within a brigade combat team, both during deployment and in garrison. Language I authored in this bill encourages the Army to replicate this successful program to help facilitate early identification and treatment of behavioral health problems.

The bad news, again, is that this provision--and so many important provisions in this bill--will not be debated today. It appears election year partisanship has prevailed over the responsibility and the need to provide for our men and women in uniform as they fight two wars.

Having said that, I do remain optimistic about our future, and I am committed to working toward a new kind of politics, where we find consensus amidst disagreement. I know Americans want their leaders to tackle challenging problems and resolve the tough issues. That is what America does. That is what Americans do. That is what we were hired to do. So in that spirit, I will continue to reach out to all my colleagues who wish to find common ground and call on others to let this debate move forward in the coming weeks so support for our troops is not held back any longer. Americans sent us here to do no less.

Madam President, I thank you for your attention. I thank you for your service on the Armed Services Committee alongside me. With that, I note the absence of a quorum.


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