Senate setting dangerous precedent on defense authorization bill

December 18, 2013

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is one of the most important pieces of legislation annually considered by Congress, authorizing the funding of our armed forces and setting forth the policies to ensure that our nation is secure. For nearly 50 years, both sides of the aisle and both houses of Congress have put partisanship aside to carefully consider the best way to ensure that our military has adequate resources and our citizens are safe.

This year, however, without warning or cause, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow for adequate debate or an open process for amending the legislation, breaking an important tradition that has been one of Congress’s few bright spots in recent years.

In the past decade, regardless of which party was in power, the NDAA has been considered in the Senate for an average of nine days with an average of 130 amendments considered each year. But this year, after just two days of considering the bill and voting on only two amendments, Reid filed a motion to end debate on the legislation and block any other senator, Republican or Democrat, from offering further amendments.

This is a dangerous and unnecessary new precedent to set when it comes to our national security. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I recognize the importance of giving this bill full and open consideration. It authorizes more than $600 billion in spending for the next year and enacts policies that touch every part of our national security apparatus. The NDAA identifies our security priorities, such as new and emerging threats, and ensures we have the resources to keep our service members safe.

Refusing to allow the normal debate process to work as it has for almost five decades violates the rights of the American people to have this legislation debated and amended through their elected officials.

I filed several amendments in November and co-sponsored others that, in previous years, would have received consideration. For example, the Due Process Guarantee Act, which I offered with Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, is a bipartisan amendment that guarantees due process for American citizens. That measure passed by a supermajority, 67 votes, on this same authorization bill last year. With such overwhelming support, there is little reason why it could not be considered this year.

My colleagues had other amendments dealing with issues such as the National Security Agency, sanctions against Iran, and sexual assault in the military — all important issues that need to be addressed in this bill.

Much like the “nuclear option” change to Senate rules in November, Reid’s refusal to allow amendments to the NDAA this year serves no other purpose than to stymie the rights of the American people to have their voices heard on important legislation through their elected officials.

As a result, I cannot vote to support this legislation until my colleagues and I are allowed to debate and amend it in a way that respects the normal democratic processes that have worked well for almost 50 years. This bill is too important to the security of the United States, and to military communities like the one supporting Hill Air Force Base, to allow it to move through the Senate without due consideration.

I commend my colleagues in the House of Representatives, whose leadership carved out the appropriate amount of time in their schedule this summer to give this important legislation the consideration it deserves.

I would very much like to see a Defense Authorization bill pass annually that addresses the pressing concerns of our military and enacts policies that enhance our nation’s security and protects the lives of service men and women and their families. The only way to do this is through an open amendment process that allows all members of the Senate to participate and press legislation on behalf of their constituents. To do otherwise is harmful to both our armed services and the democratic institutions they are charged with protecting.