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Ms. AYOTTE. Mr. President, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee--and I appreciate your leadership in that role as well on that committee--I would like to speak for a few minutes on the National Defense Authorization Act.
In the midst of an ongoing war, with our brave sons and daughters, husbands and wives fighting in Afghanistan, our country continues to face a very serious threat from radical Islamist terrorists and other challenges and threats throughout the world. With increased threats posed by rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, it is so important that we pass the Defense Authorization Act.
I would like to take a minute to thank Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain for their leadership and for the hard work and dedication they have shown in bringing us together around this Defense authorization. In a place where we typically have seen many times that things have come down on party lines, I can tell you that the Senate Armed Services Committee is a welcome exception to the gridlock and partisanship in Washington, and both of them have brought us together. In fact, the Defense authorization bill passed out of the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously. It reflects the committee's bipartisan commitment to making sure our troops and their families have what they need to ensure our Nation is protected.
As the ranking member of the readiness subcommittee, I have had the pleasure of working with Chairman McCaskill to ensure that our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect themselves and our country. At the same time, the readiness subcommittee has also worked very hard to achieve significant reforms that save taxpayer dollars without endangering our military readiness. I look forward to continuing to work with the chairman to seek additional efficiencies within the Department of Defense budget, while guarding against irresponsible cuts that would leave our troops and our Nation less prepared for future contingencies and increase the likelihood of conflict.
I also wish to recognize the work I have had the opportunity to do with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that further supports our troops, our veterans, and their families. I am proud to have worked with my colleagues across the aisle to include several very important provisions in this year's Defense Authorization Act.
During the markup, Senator Begich, Senator McCain, Senator Shaheen, Senator Vitter, and Senator Udall joined me--three Republicans and three Democrats working together--to introduce and successfully incorporate an amendment to the Defense authorization that would save $400 million by cutting off funding to the over-cost and behind-schedule Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS. This is a weapons program that the Pentagon has said it will never procure, it will never happen. Yet we continue to put taxpayer dollars into this weapons system. I know that in the President's comments about the bill, he has expressed concern about this--his administration has--but at a time when we are facing grave fiscal challenges in this country, we cannot afford to spend $400 million on a weapons system that will never come to be when there are so many other needs that need to be addressed.
In another bipartisan effort, more than a dozen of my colleagues joined Senator Begich and me in ensuring that veterans buried at the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines will have the dignified and final resting place they deserve. There is still more work we have to do on this issue.
What this comes down to is when the Air Force abandoned Clark Air Force Base in 1991 in the wake of a volcanic eruption, Clark Veterans Cemetery was abandoned and the tombstones and the remains of 8,300 U.S. servicemembers and their dependents were left buried in ash and overgrown weeds. That is completely unacceptable for those who have served our Nation, that we would not ensure that this cemetery would be kept in a way that is dignified and consistent with the respect they deserve, having served our Nation.
To prevent this from ever happening again, I am pleased that the Defense authorization includes my provision, which would require the Secretary of Defense to provide Congress a plan to ensure that an appropriate Federal or private agency assumes responsibility for the continued maintenance and oversight of cemeteries located on overseas military bases after they close.
What happened here is that we left, and there was nothing in place to ensure that we would take responsibility to make sure this cemetery was maintained with dignity and respect. This provision will make sure that if we are in that position again, this will not happen.
Additionally, Senator Jack Reed and I worked together to include a provision aimed at enhancing the Department's research, treatment, education, and outreach initiatives focused on addressing the mental health needs of members of the National Guard and Reserve.
In addition to the provisions I have just mentioned which we have been able to put in this bill on a bipartisan basis, I would also like to talk about some additional amendments that have already been included in the Defense authorization. Here are some of the provisions or reporting requirements that are included within this bill:
First, requiring the Pentagon to complete a full statement of budget resources by 2014 to improve financial stewardship at the Pentagon.
This has been an issue we have been working on for too long. It is time that the Pentagon is able to undergo an audit, and this requirement that is contained within the Defense Authorization Act is consistent with what Secretary Panetta has said he is seeking to do, to make sure the Pentagon can complete a full statement of budget resources by 2014.
When we are at a time when we are $16 trillion in debt, the fact that we are not able to audit the Pentagon, aren't able to really take that information and make critical decisions on what we need versus what we would want to do and what we can afford to do, this is very important, that the Pentagon get to a position where it can be audited. This provision ensures that this critical step is in this bill, and I am hopeful it will get passed.
Additional provisions that will save millions of dollars in acquisitions by prohibiting the Department of Defense from using cost-type contracts for the production of major defense acquisition programs are in this bill.
We can't afford the years where we are paying much more for weapons systems than we can afford and it takes much longer to produce them. We can improve our acquisition systems, and by prohibiting the Department of Defense from using cost-type contracts for the production of major defense acquisition programs, this is a very important step.
There are also provisions in this bill to ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains strong as we modernize our nuclear arsenal.
Without a nuclear deterrent, if you look at what is happening around the world, with Iran trying to acquire the capability of having a nuclear weapon, with North Korea having that capability, it is very important that we have that deterrent in our country and that it remains modern and able if, God forbid--we hope we will never have to use that, but it is a very strong deterrent to rogue actors around the world that are seeking this capability.
In addition, there are provisions that increase oversight of the Department of Defense's proposed reduction in the number of soldiers and marines and looks at the issue of minimizing involuntary separations.
This is one of the things we are facing right now. With the defense cuts, some of our men and women in uniform who have served multiple tours on our behalf are now in a position where they may receive a pink slip. We owe it to them to make sure we minimize the situation where they come home, they are given a pink slip, and then they are put in a situation where they are looking for a job. We need to make sure we do this in a way that they can assimilate into the civilian society without being left unemployed, given the sacrifices they have made for our country.
There are other provisions I would like to highlight briefly. There is a provision to ensure that military amputees have access to top-quality prostheses and prosthetic sockets.
Whether servicemembers who require prosthesis choose to leave the military or continue to serve, they deserve the best, top-quality prostheses and prosthetic sockets, and included in this mark is a provision that will ensure there are standards to make certain they receive the best. They deserve it.
In addition, there is a provision that will require that the Navy let us know what our current military capabilities require in terms of the number of ships and submarines that are in our fleet. The Chief of Naval Operations testified last year the Navy needs 313 ships and submarines to meet its strategic requirements. Right now we only have 285. If sequestration goes forward, we are going to have dramatically less. Right now, we can only meet 61 percent of attack submarine requirements set by our combatant commanders. The administration has said we are going to shift to the Asia Pacific region given the rise in investments China is making in its navy, so I am simply asking that the Navy tell us what they need to make sure our country is protected.
We have conflicting information, and it is important that we have a strong and robust Navy to make sure America is protected from the threats we face around the world.
In conclusion, I want to just thank Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain for all their hard work and leadership on the Armed Services Committee. This is a bill of which we can be proud. I am pleased that last week the Senate adopted my amendment to ban terrorists who are being held at Guantanamo Bay from being transferred to U.S. soil. I know that is something the American people feel strongly about.
I know the bill, overall, will continue to have debate on a number of amendments, but it is a bill that is very important to our servicemembers--the men and women in uniform who serve us--and their families. They deserve the very best. They deserve to know we will pass this bill to make sure they have the equipment and the support they need given the sacrifices they have made for our country.
Again, I thank Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain for all their hard work.
I thank the Chair, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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