WASHINGTON, DC - Concluding three days of debate, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, made his closing argument on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020:
“Madam Chair, let me start in a similar way that I started two days ago and that is to express my appreciation to the staff who has done a terrific job of wading through a ton of issues, a lot of paper in bringing this bill to the floor.
“I also want to express my particular appreciation to some unsung heroes and that is the folks in legislative counsel because members and staff come up with these great ideas. It's those folks that put it on legislative paper in a timely way so we can deal with it in the floor, in committee or subcommittee or wherever it is. They do a magnificent job. I don't think they get enough attention for the work that they do.
“In addition, I want to express my appreciation to Chairman Smith and to all the Members of the Armed Services Committee for their commitment, for the -- not just the work they put into it, but for their dedication and commitment to the country's national security. There have been some inferences and even more than inferences on the floor that there is some sort of political maneuvers or games going on. I have not seen that in the Armed Services Committee. I believe to a man and woman, every member of that committee is sincerely dedicated to doing the right thing for the troops and for the country's national security.
“And the truth is, together we've done a lot of good work over the years. 58 straight years. In recent years, we have, together, grappled with the problem we have been discussing a few minutes ago with readiness crisis that resulted in the highest number of aviation deaths in six years last year and increasing number of accidents. Together we grappled to turn the corner and do a better job. And there's a lot of pride in what the committee, together, has done over the years. But there is concern, at least among the members on my side of the aisle, that a lot of that progress we have made together stands a chance of slipping backwards with this bill. And, you know, we spend three days going through hundreds of amendments, a lot of times we don't talk about the core of the bill.
“Let me just give some examples of the concerns I have about the reductions in authorization in the underlying bill that make a real difference. For example, the underlying bill cut $295 million from aircraft carrier procurement, leading to a one-year delay in the construction of the next carrier. Now, we need 12 carriers. We have 11. We're on a path to nine. As a result of this bill, we're going to delay another year getting another carrier.
“It cuts $155 million from fast in-shore craft measures. In the last two days, we had some of these small boats in the Persian Gulf threaten British tankers and yet this bill cuts $155 million from the sort of thing this deals with.
“A lot are concerned with the Russians and Chinese are doing in hypersonics. People believe they are ahead. This bill cuts hypersonic and wind tunnels. This bill cuts $260 million from 5G next-generation communications. Now, these funds were supposed to go to sites across the country to kick-start domestic innovation, explore 5G applications in military depots, seaports, defense manufacturing. It's a big deal for the military, 5G is. And yet -- and we're competing with the Chinese, especially, and yet the bill cuts $261 million from what the administration requested.
“It cuts $123 million from F-15 spares and repair parts. Now, 28 of these aircraft are grounded today. The average age of the fleet is 35 years. And yet, this bill cuts $123 million from the spare cuts to get those planes flying again. I think -- flying again. I think that's a mistake.
“It cuts a missile defense test that was approved for the SM3 Block 2A missile. And the new satellite constellation to help warn -- satellite constellation to help warn against missile threats.
“These are specific things where members are concerned that it leads to sliding backwards on readiness or not making the progress that we need to make when it comes to our adversaries. That was the bill coming out of committee. But then as we have heard, the bill took a disturbing turn on its way to the floor.
“I won't repeat the numbers about the rules committee. The one -- the statistic that just concerns me the most, frankly, is that of the amendments made in order, that were contested -- in other words, there was a debate, there was difference of opinion, it was not agreed to, of those amendments that were made in order, one was a Republican amendment. One. On low-yield nukes, that's the only Republican amendment. The only Republican opportunity to shift the bill in a different direction.
“Then, Madam Chair, I note the Armed Services Committee has put out a press release that's entitled "Democratic priorities in the FY 2020 NDAA." The first bullet says, quote, this is the first time in history that HASC cuts $17 billion from the President's Budget. First time in history. Not exactly a way to maintain a bipartisan approach to national security when you're boasting about for the first time in history that you're cutting a president's request more than ever.
“I turn to page 4, accelerates closure of Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, transfer of detainees in Guantanamo bay. This was under a democratic majority and with President Obama in the White House. It prevented GTMO detainees from being transferred to the U.S. It was taken out in this bill. Not exactly the way to build a bipartisan majority.
“On page 6, the headline is "protects against nuclear catastrophe," and underneath it says it prohibits the limit of low-yield nuke, it cuts $608 million. Down a little lower it says it cuts $103 million from ground-based strategic deterrent. So we're going to prevent nuclear catastrophe by cutting ourselves. Doesn't talk about what the Russians, the Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, or anybody else is doing. We prevent nuclear catastrophe by cutting ourselves.
“So that's the trend that this bill has taken when it approached the floor. I realize there are various points of view when the Democratic caucus. I note a POLITICO article that says Congressional Progressive Caucus are demanding a string of concessions from Speaker Pelosi and her top lieutenants. That's the concern I think that many of us have.
“Madam chair, I would simply say two things. One is, unfortunately, this year in the House we spent a lot of time on messaging bills that are never going to be considered by the Senate, never will get to the President. I don't want the NDAA to turn into a messaging bill where we can go home and brag about something we voted but those provisions have no chance of becoming law.
“Secondly, and lastly, I would say, there's a lot of good in this bill. I talked about some of the not so good, in my view. There's lots of good in this bill. There is a lot of good and a lot of bad. A lot of members on both sides contributed to a lot of good. But the direction it has taken is not toward the good and I would just suggest that members who do care about a strong military, about doing the right thing for our troops and for American national security consider very carefully their vote on final passage when it comes that time.
“I thank the Chair and I yield back the balance of my time.”