Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following statement during House consideration of H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008.  H.R. 4986 was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on a vote of 369 to 46: 

 “I rise today in strong support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which we will consider today for a third time on the House floor, and which has been revised to address the objections expressed by the President.
 “I strongly believe that this bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by this Congress, and one of the best defense authorization bills I can recall during my time in Congress.  I'm so extremely proud of the members of the Armed Services Committee, and of all of those who worked hard in and out of the Armed Services Committee to make this happen.  And I also want to thank the staff for their hard work to get us to today, with a bill that will be signed by the President.
 “Last night we disposed of the President’s veto of an earlier version of this bill.  That veto was a surprise to all of us.  Today we move on, and send a final version to the President that his aides have indicated he will sign.  The changes to the conference report which passed this House on a vote of 370 to 49, and passed the Senate 90 to 3 are minimal.  Only one section, Section 1083, dealing with claims against countries that are or have been state sponsors of terrorism, caused a problem for the Administration and led to the veto.
 “Today’s bill includes a compromise on that provision that allows the President to waive the application of that section to the government of Iraq, while also expressing the sense of Congress that the President should negotiate with the government of Iraq to satisfy the many legitimate claims that American citizens have against that country and its former leader, Saddam Hussein.  The only other changes made to the bill were those required to make retroactive the pay increases and many benefit improvements provided for military service members and their families.  Those provisions will be made effective as of January 1 of this year, as would have been the case if the bill had been signed by the President.
 “This is a good bill. As a matter of fact, I think it's the best defense bill in decades that this Congress has put forward. It's good for our troops, good for our families, it will help improve readiness of our Armed Forces, and it will bring new significant oversight to the Department of Defense in areas where oversight was sorely needed in the past.
 “Let me begin by saying that the Armed Services Committee has remained committed to a tradition of bipartisanship, and we appreciate that, and we have all throughout the year.  Special thanks to our ranking member, the gentleman from California, (Mr. Hunter) who's been such a great help through the years.
 “When the 110th Congress began, we laid out, from the Armed Services Committee, six strategic priorities, and we have met them in this legislation. The bill before us is the culmination of our efforts. It addresses strategic priorities in important ways. It includes a 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise, it protects the troops and their families from escalating health care fees, and includes well over 100 other measures, both large and small, regarding quality of life. It is especially important because it adopts the elements of the Wounded Warrior Act which passed this House earlier in the year 426 to 0. And I think that that, in and of itself, is a major victory for those in uniform.
 “It addresses readiness. It establishes a new, high level board of military officers, the Defense Materiel Readiness Board, to grapple with the growing shortfalls confronting the Armed Forces. The bill allocates $1 billion to a Strategic Readiness Fund.
 “The bill will bring much needed oversight to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It does so by instituting new reporting requirements developed on a bipartisan basis.
 “The bill builds on the successful passage of H.R. 1, which fully implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The bill authorizes the funding required to carry forward that act by continuing, and this is important, and expanding the Department of Defense's cooperative threat reduction program and the Department of Energy's nuclear nonproliferation programs. These programs address perhaps the single largest threat to the American homeland, the threat of nuclear terrorism and other weapons of mass destruction, and we address that very carefully in this bill.
 “We also include $17.6 billion for the mine resistant ambush vehicle, which is known as MRAP, to protect our troops in Iraq and in future conflicts. It does a great deal in the area of funding for our various ships, including production of two Virginia-class submarines per year by 2010, and adds eight C-17s to meet the needs of the demands of global power projection.
 “One of the most important elements of this bill, in addition to the money and the hardware, is a requirement that the Department of Defense perform a quadrennial review of its roles and missions. The first time this was addressed, and the last time it was addressed thoroughly, was back in 1948 at the behest of President Harry Truman and his then Secretary of Defense, James Forestal. The review we require in this bill causes a full examination as to whether the Department of Defense is truly developing the core competencies and capabilities to perform the missions assigned to it and whether those capabilities are being developed in the most joint and efficient way by the military services. Much has changed since 1948. Technology has changed and has blossomed and mushroomed, and that's why it's important that we update, by way of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, the Key West agreement that was met back in that year of 1948.
 “I am very, very pleased with this bill.  I think that history will say that this one was a comprehensive, if not the most comprehensive, Defense authorization bill that our Congress has passed in decades.”