After months of wrangling, the House finally passed the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill by a 341 to 48 vote. Outgoing House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) said the following during floor debate on the revised bill:
Mr. Speaker, today is the beginning of the end of a long journey, a journey that started with the submission of the President’s budget on February 1, 2010. The law requires the President to send us a budget, and he did his duty.
But our obligation in considering the budget goes deeper. The Founding Fathers entrusted Congress with the care of the Armed Forces. The Constitution, Article I, Section 8, requires that we raise and support Armies, provide and maintain a Navy, and make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces. That is our duty.
Most of you, like me, have spent time with our troops overseas. Their dedication, courage, and devotion never cease to amaze. Their service and sacrifice is matched only by that of their families who bear the same burden. Their sacrifice is, at times, almost unbearable. Yet they do it, and not for us, but for the American people. However, we bear the awesome burden of repaying their sacrifice.
For 48 consecutive years, the Congress has carried out its duty to the men and women of the military by passing a defense authorization act. It is a job that has never been easy. There have been many years where we have almost failed. In my 34 years, through 12 military conflicts including the most divisive wars in American history – Vietnam and Iraq – the Congress has wavered, but never failed.
This bill is must pass legislation. Don’t let anyone tell you different. There are literally hundreds of needed provisions in here that will not become law any other way. I have time to name only a few. This bill stops an increase in health care fees from hitting the families of military personnel; authorizes military families to extend TRICARE coverage to their dependent children until age 26; and adopts comprehensive legislation fighting sexual assault in the military. It creates a counter-IED database and enhances the effort to develop new, lightweight body armor. It gives DOD new tools and authorities to reduce its energy demand while improving military readiness. It bolsters our defense against cyber attacks. It requires independent assessments of the National Nuclear Security Administration modernization plan and of the annual budget request for sustaining a strong deterrent. It aligns the Navy’s long term shipbuilding plan with the QDR. And, it includes significant acquisition reform, the Improve Acquisition Act of 2010, which could save as much as $135 billion over the next five years. That is just a sampling of the good work done in this bill.
Now some members are claiming, falsely, that the language in the bill on Guantanamo detainees is not strong enough. Let me tell you what the bill actually does. It prohibits the release of detainees into the United States or its territories. It prohibits the transfer or release of detainees into the United States or its territories. It prohibits the use of any DOD funding to build or modify any DOD facility in the United States for the detention of any Guantanamo detainee. This restriction applies not only to Thomson, Illinois, but to the whole country. It prohibits the transfer or release of any Guantanamo Bay detainee to any country which has received a detainee and allowed that detainee to return to the battlefield. This is the most thorough and comprehensive set of restrictions ever placed on the transfer and release of detainees. It is substantially stronger than current law, and voting against this bill will have the effect of making it easier to bring detainees into the United States and easier to transfer them to countries that have failed to hold them in the past.
We all know that this year’s journey towards passage has been rancorous and difficult like few others. No one is happy with everything that was done. That is just the nature of Congress. In finding common ground, we all have to give a little. But we cannot give when it comes to supporting the men and women in the armed forces. We stand today on the dividing line between success and failure. Do not fail now. Finish the journey. Vote for the National Defense Authorization Act.