Congressman Garamendi Votes to Fund Military
Defense Appropriations Bill Offers Progress on Sexual Assaults, Disappointment on
Privacy Rights & Wasteful Missile Shield, Mixed Bag on Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, today voted to fund the U.S. military at the Department of Defense by voting for H.R. 2397, the FY 2014 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill (HAC-D). The bill passed by a 305-109 vote.
Garamendi represents Northern California’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Beale and Travis Air Force bases.
“Today I voted for legislation that makes sure our men and women in uniform can do their jobs,” said Congressman Garamendi. “This version of HAC-D is imperfect legislation, but it is also essential legislation that I fought hard to improve. I look forward to continuing to build the bipartisan coalition necessary to reduce waste in our military and to protect the privacy rights of all Americans.”
Pay Raise for the Troops
The appropriations bill includes provisions to provide for our troops and their families, including supporting a pay raise of 1.8 percent for the troops and strengthening health care services for troops and their families. HAC-D provides $33.6 billion – $519 million above the President’s request – for Defense health care programs for members of the military, their families, and retirees.
“Above all else, the Defense appropriations bill must do right by the troops and their families. This bill offers a needed pay raise and provides good health coverage for the troops and their families,” said Congressman Garamendi.
Defense Appropriations Bill a Mixed Bag on the Longest War in U.S. History
Congressman Garamendi has been a leading voice against waste, fraud, and abuse in Afghanistan and a strong advocate of ending the war and bringing our troops home to their families. There were some major legislative victories on Afghanistan during the amendment process and at least one major setback.
The Republican-led Appropriations Committee allocated $85.8 billion for war funding in the original bill, exceeding the President’s budget request by more than $5.1 billion. Rep. Garamendi supported a successful bipartisan amendment that reduced this war funding by $3.55 billion, which passed by a narrow margin of 215-206. Garamendi also supported an amendment that would have required Congressional approval to extend U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, which failed 177-246 as well as an amendment that would have terminated the current Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has provided the legal basis for the continuation of U.S. troops in Afghanistan on December 13, 2014. This amendment failed 185-236.
Congressman Garamendi was the cosponsor of two successful amendments that restricted funding for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), helping to ensure that further taxpayer dollars are not wasted on equipment that the ANSF is currently incapable of operating and maintaining in a country that is among the most corrupt in the world. Both amendments restrict funds for the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters for the ANSF from the Russian arms company Rosoboronexport, which has also been supplying arms to the Syrian regime. The first amendment on Mi-17s cut $553.8 million from the bill, the amount that the Department of Defense has currently allocated for the contract with Rosoboronexport, despite Congressional prohibitions on such a deal included in the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amendment puts these funds toward deficit reduction and passed by a large bipartisan majority (346-79). The second amendment prohibited funds from being used to train the Afghan Special Mission Wing (SMW) to operate the Mi-17s, and it passed by a 333-93 vote.
Congressman Garamendi also sponsored a fiscally responsible amendment that would have eliminated the $2.6 billion increase in funding for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), holding funding at last FY2013 levels. From last year to this, funding for the ANSF jumped from $5.1 billion to $7.7 billion, with additional funds slotted for buying aircraft, air support systems, vehicles and other equipment – much of which the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) has warned the ANSF will not be capable of independently operating and maintaining for more than a decade. Of the more than $52 billion we have appropriated to date for the ANSF, only $40 billion has actually been dispersed. This amendment failed by a 150-276 vote. (Videos of Garamendi speaking on these amendments will be up shortly)
“The Karzai government is corrupt to the bone and cannot be trusted. We are already wasting too much money in Afghanistan on projects that aren’t being built and equipment that is going to languish,” Congressman Garamendi said. “Our taxpayer dollars are being squandered in Afghanistan. They don’t need more money; they need more accountability and oversight.”
Congress Punts on Protecting Privacy Rights
Congressman Garamendi is deeply disappointed that the House of Representatives failed to rein in the NSA’s stated authority to collect the metadata of effectively every American’s phone records. The bipartisan amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) would clarify that the “any tangible thing” language in Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act only applies to people being investigated for terrorism. The amendment would have shut down the bulk, suspicionless collection of Americans’ telephone records by requiring the FISA court to limit the collection of telephone records to records that pertain to people actually under investigation and not ordinary Americans who have no reasonable connection to a Patriot Act investigation. This commonsense amendment to protect our privacy rights failed by a 205-217 vote.
“The NSA says it has the authority to collect the phone records of everyone in the United States. That this ‘metadata’ doesn’t directly include names is of little comfort to me, since it is easy for people in the intelligence community to piece together a person’s identity based on these records or to use these records to target a person for any number of motivations,” said Congressman Garamendi. “If everyone’s phone records are a ‘tangible thing’ for the purposes of a terrorism investigation, then our government sees everyone as a potential suspect. That’s nowhere in the Constitution I swore an oath to defend.”
Garamendi added, “I see no legal justification for this program in statute, and I have a hard time understanding how this broad collection of everyone’s data is consistent with our Fourth Amendment right to due process. The NSA misled Congress about the extent of this program, and it misled the American people on the extent Congress was informed about this program. We’ve seen too many abuses in the past to shrug our shoulders and move on. Enough is enough. It’s time to restore checks and balances and protect our right to privacy.”
Progress on Preventing Sexual Assaults in the Military
HAC-D makes some progress combating the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military, including fully funding Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs at $157 million and adding $25 million above the request to implement a Sexual Assault Special Victims Program. The bill also reaffirms numerous provisions on sexual assault in the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act, including those increasing penalties for sexual assault, requiring trial by court-martial for such offenses, and limiting convening authority discretion regarding court-martial findings and sentencing.
Amendments by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) passed by voice vote or en bloc provide $10 million in additional funds to increase training for investigators of sexual assaults, prohibit convicted rapists and sexual assailants from enlisting in the armed services, and provide funds to help identify people who were separated from the military because of a disorder subsequent to reporting a sexual assault, and if appropriate, correcting their record.
“We’ve got a long way to go to combat sexual assaults in the military, but HAC-D makes progress on this blemish to our nation,” said Congressman Garamendi. “The military has enough external enemies; no one in uniform should have to fear their peers. I’m glad Rep. Speier continues to be a moral voice of reason on this issue, and she will have my continued support as we work to make sure the military lives up to the best of its ideals.”
East Coast Missile Boondoggle Remains in HAC-D
Congressman Garamendi is among the leading voices on the House Armed Services Committee against a wasteful East CoastMissile Defense Site that relies on expensive and unproven technology and that the military has said is not needed. Garamendi joined Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) in co-sponsoring an amendment to HAC-D that would remove $70.2 million that is set aside for the missile boondoggle.
In a June 10 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), Vice Admiral James Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, and Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, Commander, Joint Functional Command for Integrated Missile Defense, unequivocally stated that “there is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.” In response to a question from Rep. Garamendi in a recent House Armed Services Committee Hearing, Vice Admiral Syring also affirmed that the additional $250 million in funding for the East Coast Missile Defense Site that Congressional Republicans allocated this year would not even be useful to the Department, as they have all of the money they need to carry out an original assessment of any potential site.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, expanding the ground based midcourse defense system to the East Coast would cost approximately $3.5 billion over the next five years. In their letter to Sen. Levin, Admiral Syring and General Formica stated that there currently are more cost effective and less expensive alternatives to improving the defense of the U.S. homeland than an East Coast site.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that the East Coast Missile program proposed in HAC-D is a waste of taxpayer dollars, Garamendi’s amendment failed by a 173-249 vote.
“At every town hall I host, at every public meeting I attend, there’s always at least one person telling me to cut the waste and abuse in the federal government. Here is a clear example of $3.5 billion being flushed down the toilet for a program that won’t make us any safer,” said Congressman Garamendi. “The Pentagon doesn’t want this technology; independent experts agree it probably won’t work; and more cost effective technologies are available to us. Why the House insists on funding this wasteful missile boondoggle makes no sense to me, and I’ll continue fighting for a better deal for American taxpayers.”