Statement of Chairman Leahy on the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act

The Senate will soon have the opportunity to vote on passage of the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  As they do every year, I am sure Senators are preparing their press releases touting all of the things in this bill they support—a pay raise for the military, increases for medical research, investments to counter Chinese aggression—all things worthy of talking about.  But let’s be honest with the American people about what we are doing and what we are not. 

We can all stand up here on the Senate floor and back at home, declaring our unwavering support for our troops and their families, and claiming to support a strong national defense, but until we put our money where our mouth is and provide the funding we say we support, those words ring hollow.  The NDAA is an important piece of legislation.  It sets overarching policy for the Department of Defense and guides our national security.  But what it does not do is provide the funding to implement the policies it sets.  That is the job of the Appropriations Committee. 

Yet as we prepare to vote for the NDAA, Republicans refuse to come to the table to negotiate topline spending numbers so that we can actually enact an appropriations bill to pay for our national defense.  In fact, they have indicated they would be fine if the government ended up operating under a full-year continuing resolution. 

But I suggest they do the math.  A full-year CR would not only reduce defense spending by $35 billion compared with the levels set forth in the NDAA that they claim to support, it would actually cut defense spending below last year’s levels.  Imagine that.  One minute they wave the flag and declare they support our troops and our military, and the next they say they have no problem cutting their funds.  Are we in Alice in Wonderland?  Have we gone through the Looking Glass?

Democrats have put a fair offer on the table to get us through this morass.  It provides a five percent increase for defense programs compared to last fiscal year, and a 13 percent increase for all other programs.  The five percent increase for defense is equal to the increase contained in the NDAA that we will vote on today.  It is equal to the increase for defense programs that Republicans unanimously endorsed when the NDAA was marked up in the Senate Armed Services Committee.  And it is equal to the increase that just passed the House.  In the U.S. Congress, that is as close to consensus as we will ever get.     

One Republican House Appropriator has even said publicly that he wants an appropriations deal at the NDAA levels because the NDAA “fully funds our defense needs [for] the coming year.” That is the offer Democrats put on the table two months ago only to be met with deafening silence. 

The men and women who serve in the military deserve more than lip service.  Any Senator who votes for this authorization bill today should have no problem embracing an offer that provides the money to pay for it.  They certainly should not be putting us on a course to a full-year continuing resolution, which would cause cuts in our national defense and weaken our national security.  

Secretary Austin has said that a full-year CR would be “unsound,” “misappropriate billions of dollars,” and “erode the U.S. military advantage relative to China.”  The Secretary also noted that investments in research, infrastructure and public health are “equally critical to our national security.”  I ask that Secretary Austin’s full statement be submitted in the record.

The strength of our military and national security is built on the strength of our people.  Without domestic investments in education, health care, research, economic development, and science we cannot maintain our military.  Without combatting the opioid, substance abuse, and mental health crisis facing our country today, we will no longer be able to recruit the best of the best.  We need full-year appropriations bills to make these investments.   

Recently members on the other side of the aisle have taken to the floor of the Senate to decry lack of progress on the appropriations bills.  They criticize Democrats for not bringing bills to the floor.  But let’s be real.  The only reason we have been unable to move more bills through Committee, or bring bills to the floor for debate, is because Republicans have said they will oppose them until we have a topline, yet they refuse to negotiate on the very topline they say they require to move bills.  Come on.  You cannot put barriers across the highway and then complain when the traffic stops. 

I have been calling for bipartisan and bicameral negotiations with the White House to reach an agreement on toplines since May.  In October, I released a comprehensive proposal with the support of House Democrats on a path forward.  It is time for the Republicans to meet us at the negotiating table.  

We have a job to do.  We are 10 weeks into the fiscal year.  The Republican leadership needs to step up and make a serious offer on a topline agreement – not one that panders to the extremes of their base – and do it in the next few weeks.  Let’s get to work negotiating full-year appropriations bills that address our country’s many needs, including our country’s national defense.   

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