House Debate on HR 4986 Defense Authorization Act 2008
House Debate on HR 4986 Defense Authorization Act of 2008 in Congressional Record
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008 -- (House of Representatives - January 16, 2008)
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The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Skelton) and the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Saxton) each will control 20 minutes.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Missouri.
Mr. SKELTON. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks on the bill that is now under consideration.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Missouri?
There was no objection.
Mr. SKELTON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I rise today in strong support of the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2008, a bill which we will today consider for the third time on the House floor and which has been revised to address the objections expressed by the President. I strongly believe, Madam Speaker, that this bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by this Congress and I must say one of the very best, if not the best, defense authorization bills that I can recall during my time in Congress. And I am so extremely proud, Madam Speaker, of all the members of the Armed Services Committee as well as all those who have worked hard in and out of our committee to make it happen.
A special thanks to our wonderful staff, our crack staff, for the hard work that they have done to get us where we are today, with a bill that will be signed by the President, and the recipients of the benefits of this bill will be those young men and young women in uniform.
Last night, we disposed of the President's veto of an earlier version of this bill. That veto was a surprise, frankly, to all of us. Today, we move on. We send a final version to the President that his aides have indicated he will sign. The changes to the conference report, which we passed in the House by a vote of 370-49, and passed the Senate by 90-3, are minimal. Only one section, section 1083, dealing with claims against countries that are or have been state sponsors of terrorism, caused a problem for the administration that led to this veto.
This bill before us includes a compromise on that provision we worked out on a bipartisan basis with the body on the other side of the Capitol, as well as with the White House, and it allows the President to waive the application of the section under consideration to the government of Iraq, while also expressing the sense of the Congress that the President should negotiate with the government of Iraq to satisfy the legitimate claims that American citizens have against that country and its former leader, Saddam Hussein.
The only other changes made to the bill were those required to make retroactive the pay increases and many benefit improvements provided for the military serv ice mem bers as well as their families. Those provisions will be made effective under this bill as of January 1 of this year, as would have been the case had the President signed the original bill that was before you.
This is a good bill. I think it's the best defense bill in decades that this Congress has put forward. It's good for our troops, good for their families, it will help improve the readiness of our Armed Forces, and it will bring significant oversight to the Department of Defense in much needed areas where oversight was so needed in the past.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. SAXTON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to very sincerely thank my good friend from Missouri for his leadership in bringing this revised edition of the National Defense Authorization Act to the floor in an expedited manner. It's unfortunate that we find ourselves in this position, but through Mr. Skelton and Mr. Hunter's leadership, we were able to find a mutually agreeable compromise in an expeditious manner.
On December 12, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act, as my good friend just pointed out, by a vote of 370-49. This amended version is a good bipartisan bill, with very few changes from the original legislation. In section 1083, we ensure terrorism victims have the legal redress against state sponsors of terrorism, while granting the President the waiver authority to protect our relationship with the new government of Iraq. This provision was the crux of the issue that brought this bill back to the House after we sent it to the President, and it's something that is near and dear to many of our hearts, and some of us worked very closely with Members of the other body, in particular Senator Lautenberg, over several years to bring the language that we had in the original bill to the attention of the House and inclusion in the NDAA bill.
The new version simply gives the President the ability to waive the totality of this pertinent section as to claims against Iraq for terrorism acts that occurred before or on the date of enactment of the fiscal year 2008 NDAA bill. As my good friend, Mr. Skelton, just pointed out, this is perhaps a better way to write this because certainly we can't or shouldn't hold the current government of Iraq responsible for things done by its predecessor, Saddam Hussein. And so this is a good compromise and a good effort. We also make some other provisions. We make the 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise and targeted pay raises retroactive to ensure American servicemembers are not penalized due to this delay.
Overall, the defense bill takes care of the brave men and women serving our country at home and abroad. It authorizes $506.9 billion in budget authority for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy. Additionally, it supports current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the global war on terrorism by authorizing $189.4 billion in supplemental funding for operational costs, personnel expenses, and procurement of new equipment for fiscal year 2008.
Once again, I want to acknowledge the leadership of Chairman Ike Skelton and Ranking Member Duncan Hunter for their hard work in shepherding this vital legislation expeditiously through their chamber. Through their work, this bill guarantees that our service men and women will get what they need, and when they need it.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. SKELTON. Madam Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to a longstanding and hardworking member of our Armed Services Committee, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Andrews).
(Mr. ANDREWS asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. ANDREWS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for yielding time.
I rise in strong support of this legislation. The slogan that we should support our troops is given life and reality by this bill, by paying them well, by equipping them well, and by supporting them in every respect. This bill deserves the support of each and every Member of this body.
I also echo the remarks of my friend from New Jersey with respect to the
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hard work that has been done to be sure that Americans who have been victimized by the state-sponsored terrorism have adequate means of redress in our courts. This is the issue that gave rise to the Presidential veto. I happen to agree that the compromise in front of us makes imminent sense.
The general rule in American law is that when you sue someone, you don't have the right to freeze their assets or go after their assets unless you win a judgment. We make an exception to that general rule in the case of assets owned by states which are involved in state-sponsored terrorism. It is the wisdom of the compromise here that that provision remains in effect for all of the other states that are involved in state-sponsored terrorism, with the exception of Iraq, which was under the regime of Saddam Hussein. It leaves to the discretion of the President a waiver to determine whether claims against that regime under Saddam Hussein should go forward, and how they should go forward.
This is an issue that I think the Congress ought to reconsider and revisit in 2008 and beyond. I, frankly, believe that an American who has been the victim of improper or illegal conduct under the old regime should not go without legal redress. That is a lingering question that is as a result of this compromise, but it's a wise and necessary compromise that would permit us to do what we should have done a long time ago for the men and women who serve this country so well.
So I congratulate the chairman and Ranking Member Hunter as authors of the compromise. I appreciate their hard work in bringing this bill back to life. Happily, I will support it, and look forward to doing even greater things in 2008.
Mr. SAXTON. Madam Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from New York (Mr. McHugh).
Mr. McHUGH. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Madam Speaker, let me begin by admitting right up front, this is not a perfect approach, but it is by far the best approach that we have available to us. I want to echo the words of my friend who just spoke, the gentleman from New Jersey, and add my words of appreciation and deep compliments to the distinguished chairman of the full committee, Chairman Skelton, the distinguished ranking member, Chairman Hunter, the great staff on both sides, and all the members who have worked so very hard to bring this moment to reality.
Frankly, we are dealing with an issue that is a product of the challenge that did not begin in this House. It came through the general authorization process, a provision that started in the Senate, that, as we have heard here today, and I certainly endorse, we in concept all agree with. All of us believe that American citizens who have been aggrieved by any state sponsor of terrorism, including the previous Iraqi Government, deserve every possible means of redress available to them.
We believe that in the context of the challenge before us, this bill continues and preserves that right, and does it in a way that, most importantly, understands that the primary objective of this bill is bringing to those brave men and women in uniform who are serving so ably across this planet, particularly in theaters of conflict like Iraq and Afghanistan, the immediate added benefits that are derived from this piece of legislation.
The distinguished chairman could not be more correct in his observation that this is not just a good bill, it is bordering on a great bill. The pay increases, the increases in various benefits are something that we cannot put in jeopardy by choosing another course other than by voting for and feeling very positive about this piece of legislation.
Like all the speakers before, I join with them in hoping that each and every Member of this House will take advantage of this opportunity, rise to the challenge that has been presented to us, and vote "aye," in the affirmative, for this legislation, and preserve the rights and lead a path toward justice that those aggrieved people of state sponsors of terrorism so richly deserve, and at the same time provide the wealth of benefits that are embodied in this great piece of legislation.
Mr. SKELTON. Madam Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to my friend, the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Kucinich).
Mr. KUCINICH. I thank the gentleman.
This is a 1,513-page document which was completed today at 11:12 a.m., and delivered most recently to the Clerk's desk. I am sure many Members are familiar with some of the aspects of it, but perhaps not all.
My good friend, Mr. Skelton, whose work I am always grateful for, your commitment to this country is very admirable. It takes a lot of work to do what you do, and I stand here today to express reservations to, and opposition to, this bill; and the reservations I have are of course that this bill will continue to fund the war in Iraq.
I have offered Congress an alternative, which is that we can end the occupation, close the bases, bring the troops home, set in motion a parallel process of an international security and peacekeeping force that would move in as our troops leave. We all want to protect our troops. I think the best way to defend and protect them is to bring them home. So that is one of the first concerns I have.
The second concern I have is section 229 of the bill relates to protection of U.S. and allies from the Iranian ballistic missile. One of the things in the bill that I am very concerned about, Mr. Chairman, is that it says that Iran maintains a nuclear program. Now the National Intelligence Agency, which made information available to this Congress, would assert otherwise. I think that we have to be very cautious about building out an entire part of our defense, planning for an attack from Iran, when we haven't even made an effort to break down the walls that have been built up over 29 years and use diplomacy. Yet, we are actually defining and making a connection between a nuclear capability that Iran clearly doesn't have at this moment and ballistic missiles. And by creating that linkage, we are actually creating an architecture of fear. I don't think that is a sensible way for the greatest Nation of the world to be pursuing its policy. In connection with that, it creates increased tensions for Europe.
I am concerned that we keep building these missile interceptors in Alaska that in a sense helps to frame an interceptor system that has not even been proved to be technologically feasible; that we are getting into nano tech nol ogy without any serious discussion of what it means when you start using nano tech nol ogy and marry it to weapons production.
The discussion in this bill about a Space Posture Review speaks of the United States policies in space as space control, space superiority, targeting objects on Earth from outer space. Now, that doesn't sound like the America that many of us would want to participate in when we think that we are going into kind of a Buck Rogers scenario here.
Another section deals with continuing and encouraging the School of the Americas, something a number of Members have opposed.
Mr. Chairman, I have gone over a good part of this bill, as much as I could with this short a period of time, and I think when we, on the one hand, accept the judgment of Members of Congress that we don't want a permanent presence in Iraq, and on the other hand give $80 million for one base, $86 million for another, $88 million for a third, and $103 million for a fourth, that sounds like a permanent presence to me. Either that or it is the most expensive trailers in the history of humanity.
So there are so many factors in here that really I think need to cause us to be cautious. Also the one about Pakistan, because I think we are setting the stage for sending U.S. troops to Pakistan, something the American people do not want to do.
I want to thank my friend, nevertheless, for his commitment to our troops. We agree that we should protect our troops.
Mr. SAXTON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I would just like to say to my friend from Cleveland, who speaks very articulately on this bill, as I am sure he did on the original bill, the gentleman made some points that he believes I am sure very much that there
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are some things in the bill that he disagrees with, and the gentleman and 48 other people voted against the original bill, and I am sure for many of the same reasons.
In fact, it would be surprising if they weren't the same reasons, because the 1,513 pages that the gentleman has under his arm that he referred to are almost identical to the original bill which is here, which has been available since December 6 of last year. And the 1,513 pages that my friend referred to had one single change from the copy that I have in my hand that has been available since December 6. And that change, both the ranking member and I took care to explain, I think we explained it well, had to do with terrorism, had to do with Iraq, had to do with not holding the current government in Iraq responsible for acts committed by the previous regime. And we also of course added the second provision that had to do with back pay.
So, this is a good bill that passed by 370-49 previously.
Mr. KUCINICH. Madam Speaker, will my friend yield?
Mr. SAXTON. I yield to the gentleman from Ohio.
Mr. KUCINICH. Madam Speaker, one of the things that I just want to call to your attention, to my friend, I am concerned about that section 229 about Iran, especially in light of the new development that may have happened since this was drafted and the draft that you cite about the National Intelligence Estimate. I am not sure that that discussion about the National Intelligence Estimate has really been given weight with respect to the language in section 229 which essentially says that Iran maintains a nuclear program. When you say that Iran maintains a nuclear program and it is in that legislation, I think we set the stage for some problems.
I want to thank the gentleman for being so kind to yield to me.
Mr. SAXTON. Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. SKELTON. Madam Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to my colleague from the Armed Services Committee, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Sestak).
Mr. SESTAK. Madam Speaker, I rise with great respect for Mr. Skelton, but I did want to express my real hesitation and my real concern over what is occurring.
When I have gone and sat through this with lawyers, a lien is not a hold, and we are actually not freezing these assets. My concern is this, that here men and women who have worn the cloth of this Nation and have actually been tortured, successfully won a judgment, are now precluded by a President because the Iraqi Government, to whom we are providing $12 billion a month in terms of our natural resources, has threatened to pull out of the United States' trillion dollars of markets $25 billion. I don't think this is right.
There are a lot of good things in this bill that need to pass, the pay raise to the readiness. But I honestly believe the President has not taken care of those who sacrificed the most for this Nation, and I would like us to look upon ourselves as to what we are doing here today.
Mr. SKELTON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Madam Speaker, if I may, let me add to the comments today the importance of this legislation. Under our Constitution, it is up to the Congress of the United States to raise and maintain the military and provide the rules and regulations therefore. We do that by means of a defense authorization bill that comes from the Armed Services Committee.
We worked long and hard, and we were able to pass such a bill from our committee back in May and the Senate passed one back in September. And we, of course, had conference with the Senate, and we were finally able to reach an agreement on a conference report that is a piece of legislation that embodies both the House and the Senate provisions.
The people at the White House had the opportunity to look at it and give comments on various sections of the proposed legislation, which they did. We looked at them and worked with them and passed a good piece of legislation. Like I said before, 370 Members of this House and 90 Members of the other body voted for it. However, the President chose to veto over this provision--that to me was a surprise--that it rose to the level of a veto. Nevertheless, it is what happened, and that is why we are here.
There seems to be a rather interesting intellectual discussion as to the type of veto. If I remember correctly, the veto message that was read to us yesterday here in this Chamber, the President's remarks made reference to the fact that it was a pocket veto for the reason that we were not in session and also that it was a regular veto. To me it sounded as if there were two vetoes wrapped up in one message.
Nevertheless, regarding the issue as to whether it was a pocket veto or not, the 1974 case Kennedy v. Sampson, which was a D.C. Circuit Court case, said that the ability to receive a veto message, which we had, under our adjournment resolution, Madam Speaker, we had language that allowed the Clerk of the House to receive any messages which, of course, on December 28 was the veto message from the President. The Speaker designated the Clerk to receive it. As we saw, it was a regular veto as opposed to a pocket veto. I hope that puts that issue to rest for the days ahead.
Let me briefly also mention, Madam Speaker, that besides the pay raise and the family benefits and the fact that we prevent the increase in fees for pharmaceuticals and TRICARE for the troops and their families, we provide for taking care of the problems that were raised in the Walter Reed situation a good number of months ago where our injured and wounded soldiers were not receiving the best care. We knew that and discussed it. As a matter of fact, on this floor, in the Wounded Warriors Act, we included that in toto in this legislation; also, outstanding sections on contract reform regarding the possibility of fraud, the reform of acquisition, we touched on many areas such as that.
I was so pleased with the outcome of this, including, of course, most importantly readiness, which we need to keep up, allowing additional troops for the Army and the Marine Corps.
I have been on the Armed Services Committee most of my career in Congress, and I just can't think of any more comprehensive and far-reaching authorization bill that we have ever had. I have to really give credit to our committee for the hard work they did. I just can't say enough about our crack staff on the committee. They are just first rate, and we appreciate them, rely on their hard work so very, very much, and I want to again pay tribute to them.
With that, Madam Speaker, I will reserve the balance of my time. If my friend has some further comments to make, we would appreciate them.
Mr. HALL of New York. Madam Speaker, regarding H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, I am disappointed that changes have been made from the bill passed in December which will weaken the ability of Americans tortured by Saddam Hussein to collect an award determined in federal court for the abuses of his regime. I am hopeful that this unfortunate circumstance will be remedied and that Congress and the President will find a way to ensure that these brave troops are able to pursue justice.
Mr. SAXTON. Madam Speaker, we have no further speakers on our side, and I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. SKELTON. If the gentleman from New Jersey yields back, I yield back.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Skelton) that the House suspend the rules and pass the bill, H.R. 4986.
The question was taken; and the Speaker pro tempore announced that the ayes appeared to have it.
Mr. KUCINICH. Madam Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.
The yeas and nays were ordered.
The vote was taken by electronic device, and there were--yeas 369, nays 46, not voting 15, as follows:
[Roll No. 11]
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Johnson, E. B.
Lungren, Daniel E.
Sánchez, Linda T.
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