For more than 50 years, Congress has passed and the president has signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an important bill that helps fulfill our commitment to America’s men and women in uniform. It’s almost always a bipartisan exercise that demonstrates to the American people that issues related to the military deserve to rise above the day-to-day political fights that often consume Washington.
While President Obama played politics with this critical legislation, going as far as vetoing it in 2015 in an attempt to gain leverage over other legislative items, I’m glad the bill received nearly 90 votes from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate this month. Our troops aren’t bargaining chips. It doesn’t work that way. The strong support for this bill, both in Congress and at the White House, is the kind of message we should be sending to the troops, and I was glad to support it.
I often say that if we don’t get national security right, everything else is just table talk. Passing the NDAA is an important step in ensuring our troops have what they need in order to defend our country, but our work doesn’t end here. Passing the NDAA is like opening a checking account, but Congress still needs to pass subsequent appropriations bills that will essentially put money in the account so we can write a check and support our troops. Both steps are critical.
With this year’s NDAA, our troops will get a 2.1 percent pay raise. More money in their paycheck means they’re able to provide more for their family and improve their quality of life, and it helps maintain our all-volunteer force. By authorizing an increase in troop size and prioritizing military modernization, we can starting rebuilding our military. By strengthening accountability measures, we can reform the Pentagon, which would have a positive trickle-down effect on our troops. And by ending ineffective or redundant programs, we can do a better job of using taxpayer dollars more efficiently. More can be done, and while Congress is constrained by spending caps and other limitations, these recent steps are an important start.
Our commitment to the troops doesn’t end when they stop wearing the uniform. Shortly after the Senate approved the defense bill, I reintroduced legislation that would require the federal government to provide disabled veterans with an automatic cost of living adjustment (COLA) in certain circumstances when, under current law, it is not guaranteed. Passing the Veterans’ Disability Compensation Automatic COLA Act would provide some much-needed certainty to these veterans and their families.
With ongoing threats to the United States and our allies around the world, including those posed by rogue nations like North Korea, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant in our effort to defend freedom and democracy here and around the world and provide the armed forces with the tools and resources they need to effectively complete their missions.