Providing for Consideration of H.R. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017

Floor Speech


Mr. POLIS. I thank the gentleman for yielding me the customary 30 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to the rule providing for general debate on H.R. 4909, the NDAA, or National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.

For 54 straight years, the United States Congress has come together in a bipartisan fashion to craft policies and recommendations for the United States Armed Forces and to put these into law. As has been indicated, of course, this is one of the most consequential and substantial items that we have. It is one of our responsibilities here in the United States Congress.

Personally, I have found objections to some of the policies in the bill. Of course, I commend the work of the men and women on the Armed Services Committee on this legislation. I am going to highlight some of the problems that exist and why many of us on both sides of the aisle will likely be opposing the legislation.

Many of my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee currently serve or have served in the Armed Forces. They are dedicated public servants, and they have worked hard on this bill. Of course, the bill includes the rest of us as well.

Over 375 amendments have been offered to improve this bill. The Rules Committee will be meeting this afternoon to determine how many of those we make in order, and I hope that the Rules Committee makes in order a great number of these amendments. Of course, the first step under this rule is to make a few dozen amendments in order, and we will continue that work in the Rules Committee shortly.

Mr. Speaker, for all the hard work that the Armed Services Committee has done, what we have before us this week is, unfortunately, an argument that needs to be resolved in the Budget Committee.

What we have is effectively an accounting trick that drives us deeper into debt and increases the budget deficit to pay for 1 year of increased defense spending.

But by disregarding the proper use of what is called the overseas contingency operations account and by flouting the Budget Control Act agreed upon by Republicans and Democrats, unfortunately, this Armed Services bill has been overtaken by a debate on the Federal budget.

What we have before us is a bill that will increase the deficit and increase the debt above and beyond the spending levels the Democrats and Republicans agreed to. The free-spending Republican Party continues to throw taxpayer dollar after taxpayer dollar.

Do they just intend to drive up the debt or do they intend to increase your taxes? When we increase our deficit, it means increased taxes. Effectively, this Republican bill is a tax increase on future American families, like my kids.

So this week we see a debate about the inability of the Republicans to pass a budget or adhere to a budget when they do agree to one.

If the debate over our armed services was not such a serious topic, I would say that this was a very clever, elaborate budget scheme. And it is clever. It is far too clever, more so than the traditional budget gimmicks that we have been presented with.

I am going to explain to you exactly what this tax-and-spend Republican plan is. The bill authorizes $540 billion in discretionary base budget authority that includes $523 billion for the DOD and $19.5 billion for the Department of Energy's defense work.

But since the United States has been embroiled in conflict abroad since 2001, several administrations have requested and Congress has always granted another pot of money known as the overseas contingency fund.

This year the bill provides $59 billion for what we call overseas contingency. Now, together with the $543 billion base, plus the $59 million in overseas contingency, that equals the President's budget request.

Now, as a reminder, the Republicans haven't actually produced a budget this year; so, it is hard to make a comparison. All we can do is compare it to the President's budget because there is no House budget and there is no Republican budget. We haven't even seen one to be able to act on it or have a debate.

Traditionally, we bring before the body several budgets and whichever one gets the most votes is the budget of the House. There are usually several budgets from the Democratic side, several budgets from the Republican side.

In years past, there have even been bipartisan budgets which I have been honored to support. This year, however, Republicans are not even allowing the House of Representatives to consider, no less pass, a budget.

So what the NDAA does is it takes this overseas contingency account, which many consider to be a slush fund for Pentagon operations, and it takes $18 billion of that to pay for base operations.

Some of that $18 billion goes to fund the Pentagon's unfunded priorities or what we might call their wish list or items that they couldn't fit into the agreed-upon budget control number of $543 billion.

So this busts through the deficit, increases the debt. It is a Republican plan to tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend, like they always do through accounting tricks that they are doing right here in the defense budget.

So the Pentagon gets more of the big-ticket items they want. Taxpayers are left paying the bill to the detriment of our economy, to the detriment of job creation, so that our own kids have to pay future taxes, putting our Nation deeper and deeper in debt, which I should point out to my friends is a national security issue.

When we are economically beholden to other nations like China or Saudi Arabia, that is as great, if not greater, a national security threat than the one we combat with the tanks and Armed Forces that this bill seeks to authorize. So it is very important to take that into account.

If we look at what are the reasons that we defeated the Soviet Union during the cold war, they overinvested in their defense relative to their GDP, which effectively hurt their economy and made their economic model unsustainable because they were allocating too much to defense to try to keep up with where we were.

If we mortgage our future to the Chinese and Saudi Arabians, how are we increasing our security, Mr. Speaker? In fact, we are decreasing our security to fund current consumption for 1 year at the price of mortgaging our future to foreign adversaries.

By stealing $18 billion from the overseas contingency account, the NDAA guarantees that we run out of money for overseas operations sometime in April 2017. And, of course, this Congress would never let money run out for operations against ISIS and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

So, of course, when it comes down to it, this bill will come before Congress in April and Congress will make sure that we have the money we need to fight ISIS because they looted from this bill the money that was designed to fight ISIS to pay for items on the Pentagon's wish list. So that is what is happening here.

Rather than appropriating money to combat ISIS and Afghanistan and other countries for the full year, they are just doing it for a few months. They are taking some of that money, putting it into the base, mortgaging our future, putting burdens on taxpayers, and making us economically at risk of being dominated by the countries that we continue to borrow from.

Look, that is why the Secretary of Defense and that is why the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, are completely against this way of budgeting. It is fiscally irresponsible.

As the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee testified at the Rules Committee yesterday, this old gimmick probably violates the bipartisan Budget Control Act. When you do that, that is where the budget debate gets going. Congress has set limits on how much we can spend on defense versus nondefense.

So when we run out of money next year under this NDAA plan, we are going to be forced to spend more. I mean, who before us is not going to spend the money we need to combat ISIS?

Of course Congress will spend more. This is a plan to set up Congress to spend more. Of course, Congress will spend more regardless of who controls Congress.

That is why budgets matter. That is why this arcane and esoteric gimmick in this bill matters. It is why we should have these debates in the Budget Committee. It is why this Congress should pass a budget. It is why we should let the national defense bill be about defense rather than mortgaging our future.

Look, if it wasn't enough to have this budget smoke-and-mirrors debate in the defense bill, this year's NDAA also has a debate about whether we should let taxpayer dollars subsidize discrimination and whether we should encourage corporate misconduct.

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to dwell long on the subsidization of discrimination and encouraging corporate misconduct, but I can't fathom why there would be a place in this bill about national defense for provisions that allow Federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees. That is unacceptable, bizarre, and contrary to meeting the security needs of our Nation.

Also included in this bill is an exemption from the President's Fair Pay and Safe Workplace Executive Order. The place to debate that is in another committee I serve on, the Education and the Workforce Committee, not the national defense bill. Those need to be removed.

Of course, this bill also strikes the Selective Service registration for women. The committee mark included women in Selective Service. Personally, I cosponsor a bill with Representative Mike Coffman to eliminate Selective Service that would save money. And, of course, in my entire lifetime, there has not been a draft.

If we are going to have a Selective Service system, of course, it needs to include women. Women serve in every single combat role. It needs to include everybody so we can mobilize manpower and womanpower most effectively. But, unfortunately, that has been stripped out of this bill.

I believe we should take a hard look at doing away with Selective Service entirely. Of course, at the very least, we should include both men and women at the age of 18.

To move forward without any real debate on this issue and to strike that section without meaningful floor debate is bad policy, bad procedure. It is an offense to the committee which put it into the bill and yet another reason I plan on opposing the bill.

There are other pieces of this bill which I and many Democrats and Republicans object to. There is a lot of time to go into those, which I will do depending on how many speakers we have.


Mr. POLIS. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I would say in response to my friend that the committee did a lot of work through the night and voted on a number of issues that Members raised, and many of the items that they voted on were not subject to their own hearings. What we are seeing here is a failure of Speaker Ryan to follow through on his pledge for regular order.

What is regular order? There is a committee markup of the bill for good or bad. Sometimes the chairman has things in that bill he or she doesn't want. Other times it is exactly like they want it. That gets reported out to the Committee on Rules, and other Members have a chance to change it. If any Member of this body wanted to remove women from the Selective Service, which was in the HASC markup, they would simply offer an amendment to do so. That is the normal process. There would be debate and there would be a vote.

Instead of that process, there is a mysterious self-executing amendment in the rule itself; so the rule, itself, controverts the actual bill that the HASC reported out. It actually changes the very bill that the committee worked on without a vote, without debate, and that is the opposite of regular order, the opposite of the process that allows Members to fully debate and vet these issues.

This rule actually stifles the debate on this very issue that the HASC weighed in on. It is my understanding it is in the Senate bill, to include women in Selective Service as well. I think it will likely be in any conference report that comes out. But for whatever reason, rather than having the debate and vote on the floor, it is being hidden behind a procedural trick in a self-executing rule.

I yield 2\1/2\ minutes to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Moulton) to discuss the bill and the rule.


Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, it is particularly ironic that the gentleman is touting the bipartisan amendments. It is one of those bipartisan amendments that adds women in the Selective Service that is stripped out of the HASC bill, of the committee's bill right here in this rule, through a self-executing amendment.

So this rule, if it were to pass--and I hope it doesn't. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle vote ``no.'' This rule undoes one of those very bipartisan amendments that the gentleman is touting.

I yield 2\1/2\ minutes to the gentleman from Vermont (Mr. Welch).


Mr. Speaker, I want to take some time to highlight some of the terrible environmental provisions that run counter to our national security imperative to create a more sustainable society that are in this bill or that have been submitted as amendments to this bill.

For instance, there has been an amendment that would block implementation of the collaborative Federal land use plans and prevent listing of the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act for the next decade.

We have had extensive hearings in another committee I serve on, the Natural Resources Committee. This has nothing to do with defense. In fact, we hold up the collaborative Federal land use plan as an example of how to avoid listing this species and, yet, make sure that we can maintain a viable habitat.

I think it was a great success. I think it is ridiculous that we are talking about amending a national defense bill to undo something that we have had extensive hearings on in the Natural Resources Committee and is held up by all parties involved as a huge success.

In addition, there is going to be an amendment offered to sell off over 800,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. It would be transferred to the Air Force, which has not requested a transfer. The Air Force has not requested this land for any military use; yet, there is a bill to impose the management of these lands on the Air Force.

It would represent a harmful public land sell-off precedent. It is important habitat for desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, and other wildlife.

As we mentioned, the Air Force has not requested the stewardship of these lands. Of course, it would put a costly new burden on the Air Force to the detriment of our national security.

In addition, there are two provisions already in the NDAA that will remove or block Federal endangered species protections for the American burrowing beetle and the lesser prairie chicken.

Again, I am happy to have those debates. But what on Earth do they have to do with national defense, and why are they in the committee bill?

Section 2866 would block ESA protections for the lesser prairie chicken for 6 years and then impose arbitrary restrictions on whether the Secretary of the Interior can relist the lesser prairie chicken, regardless of its biological status, even if there is only a handful left or it is nearing extinction.

Section 2866 would also immediately and permanently remove the burrowing beetle for protection under the Endangered Species Act and prevent it from receiving any protections in the future.

Our biodiversity is a source of strength. To somehow have a backdoor attempt--if you can't get these things through the proper regular order of the Natural Resources Committee, to somehow say that the burrowing beetle has something to do with national defense is a great stretch of our rules of germaneness that we have here in the body of this House.

More perilously, more dangerously, there is language in the House NDAA bill that is a repeal of section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The purpose of this law is to reduce the Department of Defense's dependence on oil from hostile regimes of the world.

So it is a disparate element of advanced lower carbon fuels to promote energy security. Repealing this provision is something the Department of Defense does not want. It would be unwise for our clean energy future.

So this bill actually detracts from the current language in the repeal of section 526. It reduces our energy security as a Nation, renders us to be more reliant on foreign powers for our oil, just as the budgetary tricks in this bill will force us to borrow more from China and Saudi Arabia to spend this year.

Finally, there is some damaging language about aquatic invasive species, which, of course, cost billions of dollars annually when we deal with the zebra mussels in lakes in Colorado, damaging shipping, damage to industrial and government facilities. Invasive species cause great irreversible damage to coastal and inland waters, including some in my district.

Once a nonnative species invades a lake or river, it is basically impossible to eliminate, as we know. S. 373, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, or VIDA, would discard the Clean Waters Act goal of stopping further invasive species and replace it with a law that would instead put ineffective standards for removing invasive species from ships' ballast water discharges that bear no relation to protection of water quality.

So, again, this bill will strip out very important measures that would prevent the dissemination of invasive species. Even in the lakes in my district, including in Grand County, we have had a devastating impact of the zebra mussel invasive species both on local habitat as well as directly on recreational ships and boaters.

There is not a direct military aspect to where we are, but, again, this applies to both military and shipping and is a great cost to the American economy when these invasive species threaten us.

Again, these are issues people may differ on. I am happy to have that debate. In fact, it is a little bit of deja vu. I feel like I have had that debate on the Natural Resources Committee. We have debated many of these same things.

But instead of bills being reported out of that committee and coming to the floor, apparently, the NDAA is seen by some as a catchall to attack our environmental safeguards. That is wrong. That actually detracts from our national security. It makes us more reliant on foreign oil. It is the wrong direction for the bill, the wrong direction for national defense.

Mr. Speaker,

I still remain hard pressed to see how the burrowing beetle or the lesser prairie chicken are somehow a security issue that needs to be addressed in the National Defense Authorization Act.

Look, there are a number of other flaws with the bill. It greatly overfunds our nuclear weapons activities, which will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions over the next 10 years. I have offered an amendment to reduce this.

This is for a stockpile of weapons that could be greatly reduced and still maintain the capability of destroying the world many times over, however useful that capability may be.

I think it should be good enough that we have enough capability to destroy the world three or four times instead of seven times. God forbid, we don't have enough capabilities to destroy the entire world and wipe out life.

This bill does not include, as had been mentioned, an Authorization for Use of Military Force for our ongoing operations in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Despite repeated calls to write an updated authorization, despite the belief of many Members on both sides of the aisle, the current war is illegal.

This Congress has taken zero meaningful action to date. We should change that or at least debate changing that this week.

As I said before, when you have a national security bill that mortgages our future, makes us more reliant on foreign oil, you wonder at what point you should stop calling it a national security bill and start calling it a national insecurity bill.

The vision that my constituents have, the vision that I have, for a safe and secure America is not one with bloated budget deficits and borrowing from China and Saudi Arabia. It is not one where we cut off our own renewable energies program so we can rely more on foreign oil. It is not one where we borrow more from our kids' future and mortgage them. That is not the secure America that we should seek as a United States Congress.

These are the kinds of questions that we should be debating in the defense bill. But instead of focusing on these real questions of how to improve our armed services and how to provide for the national defense, the general debate we will see under this rule will dedicate a large portion to debate on the budget and the looting of this overseas contingency fund, which Congress will have to come back and backfill in April, therefore mortgaging our future and increasing our national debt to fund.

Instead of actually passing a budget, this Congress is having a backdoor budget debate, debating it now. It is the wrong way to do things.

Mr. Speaker, if we defeat the previous question, I will offer an amendment to the rule that would shed light on the secret money in politics.

The DISCLOSE Act, authored by Mr. Van Hollen, would require outside groups to disclose the source of the contributions they are using to fund their campaigns.


Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' and defeat the previous question. I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the rule with the self-executing language which undoes the committee language, in violation of regular order. Vote ``no'' on the rule.


Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.