Members of the Florida congressional delegation are showcasing how the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the U.S. House passed Friday on 344-81 vote.
The bill increases the military budget to $696.1 billion for the 2018 fiscal year, an increase of 10 percent from the current budget. Most Republicans--227 of them--voted for the bill while 8 of them voted against it. Democrats were more split with 117 of them voting in favor of it while 73 opposed it. Every member of the Florida delegation backed the proposal except for U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., who did not vote as he had a death in the family. Bilirakis' office informed Sunshine State News that he would have voted for the NDAA had he been able to.
After the vote, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., noted that the bill gave a pay raise to active duty personnel and helped support military efforts on the First Coast.
“Today’s vote fulfills the promise that we made to our military at home and abroad to continue to rebuild our capabilities and keep our nation safe,” Rutherford said. “Northeast Florida is home to critical military installations that are essential to foreign and domestic missions, and this legislation bolsters the tools required to execute their duties. It also makes key investments in our military’s readiness, while providing a 2.4 percent pay increase for our brave men and women in uniform. I remain committed to ensuring our troops have the resources they need to protect our nation and am proud we voted today on a bipartisan basis to reach our goal of maintaining peace through strength.”
U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., said the bill ensured the military was better prepared. He also noted the bill helped create a new firehouse at Tyndall Air Force Base and helped upgrade Stryker combat vehicles, some of which are made in Wakulla County.
“We have the most professional, highly trained, and dedicated military that the world has ever seen, yet past cuts have left them to fight wars with outdated weapons systems and technology, planes that can’t fly and ships that can’t go to sea. That ends today, Dunn said. “This bill invests in our men and women in uniform and ensures they have the resources to accomplish their mission.
“With terrorists active around the world and threats looming in the Asia-Pacific, we cannot take our national security for granted,” Dunn added. “This legislation follows through on our promise to rebuild our military and support our troops down range.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., the vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was able to offer four amendments to the bill which were accepted in the final legislation. These include ensuring funds won’t be used to close the naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; limiting funds for portable air defense systems to the Syrian opposition; and strengthening military ties with Taiwan.
“Today’s vote focused on our national defense and the brave military men and women who volunteer to defend our great nation,” Yoho said. “This bill will give our military the biggest pay raise in eight years and provide the necessary funds to make sure our armed forces are prepared to meet the threats we face. The bill also makes major reforms in acquisition and services contracting, and it continues to support the DOD audit in FY 2018.
“I am proud that four of my offered amendments were accepted and made it into the final version of the bill,” Yoho added. “Today is a perfect example of what we can accomplish when both Republicans and Democrats come together and put country over party.”
Yoho wasn’t the only member of the Florida delegation to successfully amend the bill. U.S. Rep. Darren Soto offered amendments having the Defense, Energy and State departments report on space-based nuclear detection as the U.S. continues to monitor North Korea’s efforts, helping active duty medical personnel move into the VA medical system easier and replacing military decorations for World War II and Korean War veterans.
“Our servicemen and women put their lives on the line to defend our freedom. The NDAA provides a great opportunity for us to pursue policies like these to improve their lives on and off the battlefield,” Soto said on Monday.
The NDAA also includes a proposal from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., cracking down on Chinese companies that support the North Korean military.
“As Kim Jong-un escalates his crazed campaign for a nuclear weapon, the United States needs to take action to stymie those efforts,” DeSantis said. “Denying access to our financial markets to Chinese companies willingly working with North Korea will have a significant impact and send a clear message that China can no longer accommodate the maniacal Kim regime without consequence.
“The NDAA will also strengthen our military, by providing our troops with a much-deserved pay raise and funding investments in defense infrastructure and weapons systems,” he added.
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., took to the House floor to advocate for her an amendment authorizing Procurement Technical Assistance Centers to help small businesses have the opportunity to help military research and development through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
“My amendment would authorize Procurement Technical Assistance Centers to assist small business owners in pursuing funding opportunities during all phases of the SBIR and STTR programs,” Murphy, who worked in the Defense Department under President George W. Bush, said. “These federal programs enable small businesses to perform research and development that advances the national interest and has the potential for commercialization.
“My Central Florida district is primed to benefit from these programs, since it is home to a large and growing number of small firms that harness the power of technology, produce innovative products for customers in the public and private sector, and—in the process—create well-paying jobs and generate broad-based economic growth,” she continued.
Praising the NDAA as a “huge step forward in recovering from our readiness crisis and rebuilding our troops,” U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., cheered the Trump administration for aiding the military.
“I applaud President Donald J. Trump and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis for their focus on rebuilding our military so that we remain steadfast and better able to combat the dangers that threaten our country,” Webster said.
On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., noted the NDAA sends more than $8 million for the KC-135 beddown at MacDill Air Force Base for infrastructure
"U.S. service members at MacDill Air Force Base and beyond who protect all Americans will see direct benefits in the U.S. House’s 2018 defense bill, including an important pay increase and $8.1 million to fund infrastructure improvements to support the relocation of KC-135 tankers,” Castor said. “I am proud that the NDAA also contains my official salute to Special Operations Forces on their 30th anniversary.”
Still, while she voted for the bill, Castor offered a warning about the larger military budget running up against the debt cap and potentially hurting other priorities.
“While these provisions are vital for our Armed Forces and to protect our country, the overall authorization level of the bill fails to comply with the bipartisan discretionary spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) and misuses some of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds for non-OCO purposes,” she said. “Appropriations levels at the level set in NDAA are not allowed under the BCA and could squeeze funding for other crucial priorities like education, medical research, environmental protection, infrastructure, law enforcement, diplomacy and more. Congress must pass a budget and implement funding levels that don’t pit priorities against each other.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who co-chairs the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, said he was proud that his proposal “to include language which will ensure that service members with TBI and PTSD are given a fair consideration during military and misconduct separations” was included in the bill. Rooney’s proposal would have the Pentagon report to Congress on implementing proposals from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on how the military factors in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during misconduct separations.
“With tens of thousands of our nation’s troops and veterans suffering from invisible wounds like TBI and PTSD we need to do our due diligence to ensure all service branch policies are consistent with the Department of Defense,” Rooney said. “These men and women put their lives on the line to defend our country and it is our responsibility to care for them and take all factors into consideration in military separations.”
Rooney also co-chairs the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus and was glad to see the NDAA includes $10.5 billion to add 87 F-35s.
“The most important job of Congress is to provide for a common defense,” Rooney said. “This bill is an important step in repairing the damage that has been done after nearly half a decade of cuts which have driven military readiness to abysmal levels.”
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who is a co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, also declared victory after the vote as the NDAA includes his “Foreign Spill Protection Act” making foreign companies and governments pay if oil spills impact American waters and ensuring the Defense Department continues to monitor sea levels rising.
“I was proud to support the full funding of our national defense today, especially given the critical impact it will have on South Florida and the inclusion of the largest pay increase our troops have received in over eight years,” Curbelo said. “This bill allocates $9.8 million for Homestead Air Reserve Base to improve security and protect our reservists and all the civilians who work on base. The bill also incorporates the Foreign Spill Protection Act I introduced earlier this year to ensure foreign entities responsible for an oil spill affecting U.S. waters and our coastline are also responsible for all cleanup costs, regardless of where the spill took place.
“As co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, I’m particularly proud this passage comes after a victory for sensible environmental policy and for all those who believe Congress needs to do more to mitigate and adapt to sea level rise and the changing climate,” Curbelo added. “The successful efforts of the Caucus to defeat an amendment that would have discouraged taking climate change and sea level rise into account when planning for our national defense should not go unnoticed. With military bases like Naval Air Station Key West vulnerable to sea level rise, this vote was a win for South Florida and coastal military communities across the country.”
Curbelo appeared 610AM WIOD News Radio in South Florida to weigh in on the matter.
“Now this issue that we're discussing is even more basic than that, we're not getting into the causes, we just want to know what's happening and figure out what we need to do to become more resilient and to adapt to it,” Curbelo said. “And that’s the first step, to get people on both sides of the aisle to have a logical, reasonable, fact-based discussion on what is happening and what we may do – what we can do – to adapt to what is happening.
“And, again, those members in coastal areas are increasingly becoming sensitive to this,” Curbelo continued. “We have a lot of Republicans, even from the deep South, who everyday come to me and say ‘Well let's talk about this climate change thing and sea level rise.’ There is growing interest and my hope is that we can build that coalition, that bipartisan coalition, as quickly as possible just so that we can advance common-sense policy solutions.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who co-chairs the Climate Solutions Caucus with Curbelo, said his group was pivotal in defeating an amendment to stop the military from looking at rising sea levels, noting it failed on a 185-234 vote.
“This is a victory for all those who believe Congress should be doing more to address climate change,” Deutch said. “This vote is proof that there is now a bipartisan majority in Congress of members who understand that climate change is a real threat to our communities, our economy, and our military readiness. I hope my House colleagues were watching closely; denying climate change is no longer a winning strategy. This will only be the beginning, and I look forward to passing more climate-friendly legislation with my fellow caucus members in the future.”