Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following remarks during general debate on H.R. 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008:
"Mr. Chairman, today the House begins consideration of H.R. 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. H.R. 1585 is a collective effort in the bipartisan tradition of the House Armed Services Committee, which approved the bill in markup by a vote of 58 to 0. I want to thank our committee members, particularly our subcommittee chairmen and ranking members, for their outstanding work. I also want to thank Duncan Hunter, our committee’s ranking member, for being a great partner in this bill. I am proud that we are always able to work together in our efforts to enhance our nation’s defense and take care of our men and women in uniform.
"The polestar of this year’s defense authorization is readiness. Continued reports on the state of readiness for our ground forces, particularly our non-deployed and next-to-deploy forces, are of deep concern. In order to restore readiness and ensure that our forces will be ready if they are called upon for the next fight, this bill:
- Fully funds the budget request for Army and Marine Corps reset of equipment at $13.6 billion and $8.4 billion respectively;
- Adds $1 billion in a strategic readiness fund to meet critical readiness requirements identified by a new Defense Readiness Production Board;
- Increases training funds by $250 million so that our units get more training time;
- Requires a plan and a timeline for replenishing prepositioned stocks; and
- Strengthens the National Guard by adding $1 billion for National Guard and Reserve equipment from their unfunded requirements list, ensuring that the National Guard is able to meet its homeland and civil support missions, and adding a range of authorities through the National Guard Empowerment Act.
"This bill looks out for our troops in harm’s way by dedicating substantial resources to improve protection, including $4.6 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and providing funds for personal body armor and for up-armor humvee production.
"To reduce the strain on the force and in keeping with the House Armed Services Committee’s long advocacy of the need to boost end strength, the bill authorizes an increase in the size of the military by 36,000 Army troops and by 9,000 Marines.
"Our service members and their families make countless sacrifices and our pride in them knows no bounds. This bill expresses our thanks to them through a 3.5 percent pay raise, by blocking TRICARE and pharmacy program fee increases, expanding special compensation for combat-related disabled retirees, and establishing a special survivor indemnity allowance to begin to address the offset to the survivor benefit plan and the dependents’ indemnity plan. Provisions also include the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act, which addresses many of the problems identified at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"Accountability with respect to our ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is also an important component of this measure. The bill requires General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to report on the implementation of the Joint Campaign Plan for Iraq and on efforts made by the Iraqi government to achieve political reconciliation. Secretary Gates is also required to report on the proposed force levels for the six months following September, to discuss the missions of our forces, and to inform Congress about contingency planning. The information from this report will help us ask tough questions and make frank judgments about how we are going to pass the baton to the Iraqis. I am convinced that the sectarian violence will only be overcome by Iraqi political progress and thus far I have not seen much evidence of that. September’s report will be an opportunity for General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to lay out the straight facts. Time is short with the American people; the Iraqis must act and soon. This report will provide some real information.
"Calling attention to "the forgotten war" in Afghanistan, the bill provides funds for the Afghan security forces and requires a long-term sustainment plan so that the Afghans can build the logistics and other capabilities they need for long-term security.
"The bill establishes a new Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction to ensure accountability in contracting there, and extends the authority of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The bill also brings more contracting accountability to both Afghanistan and Iraq by forcing the Departments of Defense and State to work together in assigning responsibility for overseeing the thousands of contractors in these places, particularly those carrying weapons.
"Finally, the bill requires that the Secretary of Defense undertake an analysis of the Department’s roles and missions. In 1947, a similar effort helped shape the Pentagon through the National Security Act. After 60 years, it is time for a new analysis to help eliminate duplication among the services, identify core competencies, and strengthen the Department of Defense and the military while helping us spend money more wisely.
"Before I close, let me spend just a moment talking about something that is not in the bill. The Military Commissions Act, which the last Congress made law, precludes detainees in Guantanamo from petitioning courts under habeas corpus. This bill does not include a provision to restore the principle of habeas corpus for detainees at Guantanamo, even though I feel very strongly about this issue. My judgment is that the most promising course of action would be for the House to take up this issue as a separate bill. To that end, I have prepared legislation to address the habeas corpus issue and I intend to work with leadership, members of our committee, and with the Judiciary Committee to act on this as quickly as possible.
"This is a critical time in the defense of our nation and this is an important bill. I urge the members of this House to support this defense authorization bill that does so much to restore readiness, to support our men and women in uniform, and to protect the American people."