Armed Services Committee Member Garamendi Votes to Fund Military and Help Veterans, Improves Bill through Several Successful Amendments
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted for the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This bill funds the critical missions at Beale and Travis Air Force bases and supports most government services available to our men and women in uniform. It also includes several provisions to improve care for veterans. It passed with a bipartisan 325 to 98 vote.
“The Airmen at Beale and Travis Air Force Bases depend on Congress to pass good legislation that ensures they can effectively and safely carry out their missions. The NDAA also improves Congressional services for veterans, helps veterans who are seeking employment, and supports veterans who are struggling with mental illness. This legislation is far from perfect, but it’s a strong foundation,” said Congressman Garamendi.
“My work on the Armed Services Committee is year-round. Working with my colleagues on the committee and before the full Congress, we made substantial improvements to much of this bill,” Garamendi added. “There’s more to be done – on our war posture and wasteful spending in the nuclear weapons program most notably – and it is work I embrace as a policymaker hoping to shape a more peaceful and safer world.”
Travis and Beale Air Force Bases
Congressman Garamendi is proud to support the vital Air Mobility and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions at Travis and Beale Air Force bases, which are both located in the 3rd Congressional District.
Faced with Congress’s constraining austerity budgets, the President’s Budget proposed phasing out the KC-10 tanker and the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which are based at Travis and Beale respectively. Congressman Garamendi inserted NDAA language that would prevent the premature retirement of these aircraft (click here to read this section). This language was included in the “Chairman’s Mark” of the NDAA and the amended version voted out of Committee, and the full House affirmed these changes with the vote today.
“The missions at Travis and Beale are incredibly important not just for the district but for the country and world. Their work has included looking for the innocent girls kidnapped in Nigeria, investigating the nuclear disaster at Fukishima, providing humanitarian relief when disasters strike the world over, supplying our troops in dangerous hotspots, and monitoring terrorists in remote lawless lands,” said Congressman Garamendi. “I’m glad the House NDAA would prevent the KC-10 fleet and U-2 from being retired this year. We’ll continue fighting for these platforms, which continue to strengthen our defense and save lives, until suitable replacements are ready.”
Congressmen Garamendi and Jon Runyan (R-NJ-03) introduced bipartisan legislation that would prevent gaps in the Air Mobility mission with the transition from KC-10 to KC-46 tankers. Garamendi is co-chair of the bipartisan Air Mobility Caucus with Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS-04).
Garamendi also added language to emphasize the critical and complementary capabilities that High Altitude ISR assets such as the Global Hawk Block 30 and the U-2 provide to combatant commanders. These highly specialized platforms and the Airmen at Beale who support the overall ISR capability play a vital role in executing U.S. defense strategy. The language also speaks to the capability of the KC-10 Extender (click here to read the language).
Congressman Garamendi partnered with Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01) on a bipartisan amendment passed on the House floor that clarifies jurisdictional confusion between VA field offices. As a way of dealing with the claims backlog, overloaded offices can broker cases to less busy offices. When cases are brokered out from the VA office nearest a Congressional district, sometimes this creates barriers preventing Congressional offices from inquiring on behalf of constituents. The new rule ensures that all VA offices can continue to update congressional staff on constituent cases, who in turn can then offer better “customer service” for veterans.
Garamendi also voted for several provisions to improve employment opportunities for veterans, which also includes a section that creates a blueprint for a direct hire jobs placement program benefitting the National Guard and Reserves and allows states to implement a process that has already met success in achieving a 25% reduction in veteran unemployment.
Garamendi also voted to improve Department of Defense mental health and suicide prevention programs through better coordination and integrated care with the Veterans Administration, including an annual evaluation by independent third parties.
“When we send people into combat and dangerous situations, risking life and limb, we take on a moral responsibility to help them thrive when they return home,” Garamendi said. “The NDAA improves services for veterans and makes it easier for my office to continue our work addressing the individual concerns of veterans in my district. That’s a great thing.”
Congressman Garamendi’s constituent caseworkers have already secured more than $700,000 in owed benefits for district veterans this year. The office has more than 200 active cases for veterans. Veterans in the 3rd District who think Garamendi’s constituent caseworkers can help them should call the Fairfield District Office at 707-438-1822.
Wasteful Pentagon Spending
Congressman Garamendi offered several amendments to eliminate wasteful Pentagon spending on projects that do not advance America’s national security. Unfortunately, the Committee failed to accept several of these commonsense proposals. Specifically, it rejected his proposal to evaluate the nuclear triad and his call for a justification of the B-61 tactical nuclear gravity bomb’s Life Extension Program, which has seen its costs to soar upwards of $9.6 billion. Additionally, the Committee refused to take a hard look at wasteful spending at the Mixed Oxide Facility (MOX) located at DoE’s Savannah River Site. Despite being billions of dollars over budget and significant construction delays, this facility failed to dispose of any of our nation’s plutonium stockpile in accordance with international treaties.
However, the Committee did adopt Congressman Garamendi’s amendment to require the DoD to provide Congress with detailed briefings to explain the justification for its Long-Range Standoff Weapon—a future replacement for the Air Launched Cruise Missile. Additionally, the committee accepted an amendment that require DoE to justify its desire to produce 50-80 new plutonium pits, which form the explosive core for various nuclear weapons in the arsenal, per year. Finally, the Committee adopted his proposal to increase oversight and accountability of money spent on the War in Afghanistan. These changes were upheld with today’s vote.
“While much of the NDAA is designed to prepare America for the 21st century, aspects of this bill are still deeply rooted in outdated Cold War thinking. Our nuclear weapons capabilities far exceed any conceivable need, and this is one of the most expensive programs funded by our government,” Garamendi explained. “As I continue my work on the Committee, I’ll continue to advocate for more sensible policies to redirect our nation’s limited resources to more important investments like infrastructure, research, and care for our veterans.”
The most disappointing element of the NDAA process was House leadership’s shocking decision to deny a floor vote on an amendment that simply requires the President to seek Congressional authorization if he plans on keeping servicemembers in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The bipartisan McGovern-Jones-Smith-Garamendi-Lee amendment is similar to amendments that have received hundreds of votes in years past. The amendment was ruled “not germane” to the Defense Authorization by the majority party on the House Rules Committee – an unacceptable excuse given how carefully the amendment was crafted to conform with House rules.
“It is ludicrous to argue that a healthy debate on our future presence in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history, is not relevant to the Defense Authorization bill,” Garamendi said. “The American people deserved an open and honest debate on our future in Afghanistan, and the House leadership unfortunately robbed them of that opportunity. I’m closely monitoring the situation, and if it appears that our servicemembers will be in Afghanistan beyond 2014, you better believe I’ll be heard from again.”
The NDAA would:
- Increase troop pay by 1.8%;
- Reject proposals to reduce military commissary benefits (Garamendi is a cosponsor of the Save Our Military Shopping Benefits Act, which also prevents reductions in this earned benefit);
- Combat sexual assault in the military through a variety of bipartisan proposals. The bill would eliminate the “good soldier defense” – a consideration of general military character toward the probability of innocence in sexual assault prosecutions. It would also call for a review of the terms of discharge for those who are victims of sexual offenses, to ensure that they have not been persecuted for reporting crimes. Victims would also be consulted as to their preference for prosecuting offenders by court-martial or through civilian courts; and
- Increase funding for behavioral and psychological health programs to address the scourge of suicides within the military.