"7 Things You Should Know About The House’s Defense Bill"
At 2:14 AM on Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (NDAA), a massive $638 billion bill designed to fund all military spending and chart military policy for the for the coming fiscal year. An avalanche of amendments greatly changed the original make-up Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) presented earlier this week, eventually passing the committee with a vote of 59-2. Here are some of the provisions in the bill that you should know about before it reaches the House floor:
1. Addresses The Military’s Sexual Assault Crisis
In the light of the multitude of scandals and damning reports of sexual assault within the ranks of the military, the HASC added several provisions to the NDAA that reforms the current military justice system. Under the new language, military commanders will be stripped of their ability to dismiss the findings of courts-martial’s juries, something that the military’s leadership has opposed. Commanders will also be unable to reduce sentences imposed on those found guilty of sexual crimes, as one general did in the case that first launched the renewed interest in the issue in February.
In addition, new minimum sentencing guidelines for sexual assault in the military were included, while also adding rape, sexual assault, or other sexual misconduct to the protected communications of service members with a Member of Congress or an Inspector General, essentially bringing protections for those who report military sexual assault in line with those for government whistleblowers.
2. Adds Oversight To The Administration’s Targeted Killing Program
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) tabled a bill in May that would add a new layer of oversight to the administration’s ongoing targeted killing program. While certain members of Congress are currently briefed on all aspects of the administration’s targeted killing program, as President Obama made clear in his speech at the National Defense University last month, Thornberry’s bill would require that a briefing be provided to the House and Senate’s Armed Services Committees after any kill or capture operation undertaken outside of the declared war-zone in Afghanistan. That language was folded into the NDAA, requiring that the Secretary of Defense provide “notice in writing” promptly after any such operation is taken.
3. Provides Funding To Train Allies To Respond To Syria’s WMD
The bill also authorizes the Secretary of Defense to provide training for allies in the Middle East — including Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and Turkey — to respond to any widespread use of Syria’s stock of chemical weapons. Up to $4 million of funding currently available to the Pentagon for “operations and maintanence” can be used to carry out this training under the NDAA’s provisions, provided that the Secretary give notice to the Congress about the authority’s use. CAP experts in December called for greater planning and cooperation between the U.S. and its allies in the region in the event Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed the weapons against his own people, a prospect that appears to be growing more likely to have already occurred.
What’s Not So Good
4. Bans Even Talking About Closing Military Bases To Save Money — Because It Costs Too Much
Despite the general wave of support among House members for cutting federal spending, closing excess military bases as a cost-saving measure was squarely dismissed as being too costly. Any attempt of the Pentagon to propose, plan, or initiate further rounds of Defense Base Closure and Realignment — or BRAC — was banned under the NDAA as passed early this morning. On Monday, a wide-ranging group of Washington think tanks — running the gamut from CAP to the American Enterprise Institute to the Cato Institute — sent a letter to Congress and the Pentagon to consider BRAC as one of the ways to reform defense spending in a time where the current military budget threatens the long-term stability of the United States.
5. Provides Funding For An East Coast Missile Shield The U.S. Does Not Need
The HASC’s NDAA fully funds an East Coast missile defense, the second attempt to push the program in as many years. While the House’s 2013 NDAA also included such a measure, the Senate Armed Services Committee nixed it, instead only opting to assess the feasibility of a potential site. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has previously said that such a shield — ostensibly to protect against the non-existent threat from long-range Iranian and North Korean missiles — is unnecessary.
6. Blocks the Department of Defense From Investing In Alternative Energies
Similar to last year’s NDAA, an amendment offered on Tuesday banned the Pentagon’s purchase of biofuels until sequestration is lifted and such forms of energy reach cost parity with oil. At present, the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has been spearheading the effort to have the U.S. military — the largest single consumer of energy in the U.S. — adopt biofuels and other alternate forms of energy to help reduce cost and create a leaner, faster, more efficient military. Earlier this year, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, called climate change the greatest threat his region faces, flying in the face of Republican opposition to military spending on preventing further man-made climate change.
7. Upholds The Ban On Transferring Gitmo Detainees
As in years past, the House Armed Services Committee acted to make sure that the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay remains open despite President Obama’s renewed efforts to close it. As part of the NDAA, the ban on transferring any of Guantanamo’s current population to the United States for trial or imprisonment. That ban comes not only in spite of the fact that civilian trials yield more convictions on terrorism charges, but also that more than 200 international terrorists are currently serving out sentences in super-maximum security prisons in the U.S. Committee Democrats attempted to beat back the ban, with Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) offering an amendment to completely strike the provision from the bill. Smith’s motion was defeated by a vote of 23-38.
The bill also authorized spending $247 million to upgrade the prison’s facilities, which comes on top of the $150 million it costs to keep the base running each year. Democrats also attempted to par down that cost, but Republicans likewise blocked that effort.