"The brave men and women of our military deserve better."

November 30, 2021

As prepared for delivery

Madam President,

Our nation today exists in a time of relative peace, with limited and manageable active hostilities that threaten U.S. security. On the horizon, the United States faces a militarily ambitious and formidable, but not yet insurmountable opponent in China and its quest for regional dominance in the Pacific.

Yet, in the face of this new age of Great Power competition, U.S. grand strategy continues to operate with outdated goals and across all regions of the globe, lacking prioritization and desperately needed scale.

After the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and the corresponding diplomatic, military, and humanitarian disaster, one would think the instinct would be to jettison decades of military-industrial groupthink.

One would think the American people, and certainly our men and women in uniform deserve a thorough review of what is working and the huge swaths of what is failing in our military and defense strategy, infrastructure, and planning.

One would think that Congress would reclaim powers assigned to it by the Constitution to make serious reforms to protect the security and prosperity of the United States.

One would think we would reform our procurement process and trim the bloated, perversely incentivized military-industrial complex.

One would think we would prioritize resources toward the largest and most imminently looming threats to U.S. security.

One would think we would ‘burden share’ with our allies where our security interests align.

One would think, we, here, would take specific steps to make sure that failures like the withdrawal from Afghanistan do not happen again, whether in the Middle East or any other emerging theater of conflict.

Unfortunately, Madam President, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act fails to put the interests of U.S. citizens first. This is not the introspective or retrospective bill the American people expect, and largely continues the failed policies of decades past. The American people and the brave men and women of our military deserve better.

We are, thank heavens, in a time of peace with limited active hostilities. Despite that, we remain intimately entangled in the affairs of other nations abroad. Our troops and equipment scatter every region of the globe. We spend billions of dollars supporting, supplying, and training allies who contribute little to their own self-defense. Let alone ours.

We face an ambitious opponent in China as it seeks military dominance of the Indo-Pacific region. There is no question that while Xi Jinping remains in power, the PLA and the PRC will not shy away from bold moves in the quest for regional hegemony. But the U.S. strategy should not presume unrestrained, offensive intervention. Rather, targeted and scaled deterrence should frame the mission set across all U.S. forces postured in the region. Further, the U.S. should accordingly rescale resources in the warzones of yesteryear to appropriately prioritize protecting the U.S. homeland and military personnel from tomorrow’s threats.

Congress is responsible for raising and supporting armies, of making war, and of ratifying treaties. This bill neglects those responsibilities.

Regarding Afghanistan, the NDAA includes funding and new authorities for the nonexistent Afghan Security Forces Fund along with reimbursements to coalition partners for supporting U.S. operations, and a sense of the Senate on future U.S. counterterrorism posture post-withdrawal with little eye toward reforming or removing outdated and overbroad authorizations for the use of military force.

Perpetuating funding and authority to support a non-existent defense force is as much bad foreign policy as it is bad fiscal responsibility. We must do better.

Additionally, this NDAA fundamentally changes the purpose and scope of the military draft. The new purpose is greatly expanded to “ensure a requisite number of personnel with the necessary capabilities to meet the diverse mobilization needs of the Department of Defense during a national emergency.” Instead of being a seldom-used tool only for the most extreme cases of compelling national defense, the draft could be morphed into compulsory national service in the face of any emergency.

Even more troubling is the mandatory registration of women for the draft. While all are grateful for the incredible contribution women make to our armed forces, that participation should never be forced. This bill paves that dangerous road without due consideration given to its impact on young families and single parents. Further, the policy provides no guarantee that women would not be sent directly to the front lines of combat alongside able-bodied men.
While I’m opposed to all of the NDAA’s changes to the draft, at the very least this body should consider a reasonable amendment of mine that would prohibit the disturbing scenario of mothers and fathers being conscripted simultaneously, leaving children without either parent. It also provides a similar exemption for single parents. I hope this body will consider and pass this amendment in the near future.

The bill further reduces our military end-strength by over seven-thousand servicemembers. Troublingly the biggest cuts come from the Marine Corps and Air Force, and in the face of an aggressive China the Navy also faces reduction in active forces when it arguably should be the first contender for an increase in end-strength. As we pivot toward the Indo-Pacific, our naval and air superiority is vital. Our withdrawal from the Middle East should reduce the level of active-duty Army personnel deployed overseas, and yet the Army faced a less than 1% reduction in that category.

This bill places us on a dangerous footing regarding future mutual defense commitments. This bill would provide a vague, near-authorization for use of military force to defend Taiwan against an invasion by China. The question of war deserves its own debate by Congress, rather than a haphazard statement of policy that may be abused by the executive branch to bring us into a new conflict.

Like NDAAs of old, this bill appropriates more funds to procurement than anywhere else with no reforms to the bureaucratic barriers that make procurement so costly and inefficient.

Finally, this NDAA does not sufficiently bolster our defensive position in this hemisphere. The goals outlined by this bill are vague and equate to an abdication of Congress’s responsibility to give the Defense Department instructions for a strategic approach to the Western Hemisphere. It provides blank check authority for the DOD to support programs and activities for purposes including institution building to counter corruption and to serve humanitarian infrastructure needs. This attempt at nation building is misguided and will not be helpful in our efforts to deter China.

Thankfully there are a few positives in this bill for U.S. national defense and for the security of the people of Utah.

The bill continues to support the development of fifth-generation air power capabilities in the F-35 program, continuing a critical investment in our air defense. The bill also fully funds the modernization of our ground-based nuclear deterrent, protecting the U.S. homeland for generations to come. This important work will largely be done by the people of Utah and our dedicated servicemembers at Hill Air Force Base.

The House NDAA also includes my Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act. One in four military spouses currently face unemployment or are actively seeking work, largely because of frequent moves due to their spouse’s military orders. This bill would allow spouses of our military servicemembers to work in their chosen profession wherever military orders take them in the United States without having to navigate the complicated requirements of state occupational licensing. Utah led the way with this commonsense reform that makes life and achieving prosperity easier for those families who serve our nation.

We could have done more. This NDAA could be a pivot point where we reexamine our defensive stance in the world and reclaim our constitutional arrangement here at home.

This NDAA could have been a turning point in which we in Congress reasserted our authority over war making powers. My National Security Powers Act with Senator Murphy and Senator Sanders would clarify and modernize the War Powers Resolution. The bill would also restore Congressional authority over arms exports. It would additionally require Congressional approval of emergency declarations and prevent the President from misusing emergency powers.

The National Security Powers Act would rein-in presidential abuses of the war power and make our nation safer and more aligned with the Constitution. It is bipartisan. It is exactly the type of reform that belongs in the NDAA.

We must also make reforms to our emergency war spending. Though President Biden thankfully didn’t request – and congress didn’t provide – the OCO slush fund, there is much that needs to be done to restore Congress’s power of the purse in the defense environment. The Cost of War Project estimates that post-9/11 war spending totals $8 trillion from 2001-2022. Of the $8 trillion, OCO and interest on OCO funds accounts for $3.3 trillion. My Restraining Emergency War Spending Act would define emergency war funding and require the Department of Defense and Congress to limit spending set-aside for emergencies to the purpose for which it was authorized.

We also need to return accountability to our defense alliances by requiring wealthy and capable nations to contribute their fair share to their defense. In the NATO alliance alone, only 11 of its 30 member countries meet the 2% defense spending requirement. This means 63% of the alliance shown here in red do not foot their fair share of the bill. My Allied Burden Sharing Report Act would help us know just how much or how little our allies are contributing. This report used to be published annually. This NDAA would have been an ideal venue to legislate its return.

We also must use these legislative opportunities to prepare the DOD for future defense focused on the technology, the reforms, and the regions of the future.

Our defensive position regarding China and in the Indo-Pacific should focus on deterrence. Spreading our forces and expensive equipment to the ports and shores of allies in the region is ineffective and could prove more of a vulnerability than an advantage against Chinese strike capabilities. A deterrent posture would combine defensive strategy and operations to fend off possible attacks from a position of strength, and limit risk to U.S. personnel and assets.

Further, we must prioritize recruitment and retention for the future fight. We need to provide a suitable and welcoming environment for those in uniform and their families. We need to end the President’s sweeping vaccine mandate and give our servicemembers the respect they deserve.

After a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of our nation’s longest war this NDAA could have been, should have been, an opportunity to debate, rethink, and reform our nation’s defenses.

The NDAA – U.S. defense and security broadly – is one of the few items this body considers explicitly within the enumerated powers of Congress. It deserves due consideration and debate on the floor in order for members to raise issues like those I’ve described today. Yesterday, this body attempted to close debate on this bill without consideration of a single amendment.

While this bill does make key progress in limited areas, it does not get to the heart of many national defense problems. It does not restore Congress’s role in our national defense. It does not provide a wholistic strategy to defend the United States and the people of Utah. This bill and the floor process remain missed opportunities and I will continue to fight for both necessary policy reforms and an open process. Anything less is an abdication of the duties of this body to the detriment of the citizens we serve. We can and must do better.