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As your Representative, keeping America safe is my first priority.  I remain committed to ensuring that the federal government provides our military with the necessary resources to accomplish their missions and protect our nation from those who wish to do us harm.

Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act

Representative Mac Thornberry introduced H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, on April 13, 2015.  Without changing the budget caps, this bill would authorize $515 billion in base discretionary spending for national defense and an additional $89.2 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for a total of $604.2 billion.  The House and Senate passed their respective versions of the bill, followed by negotiated language.  However, President Obama vetoed H.R. 1735 on October 22, 2015, because he objected to lifting the spending cap on defense without providing the same degree of relief for nondefense discretionary spending.

On November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 became law.  This budget agreement raised the discretionary spending caps for both defense and nondefense programs and increased OCO funding for each of the next two fiscal years.  To meet the new appropriations levels for defense spending, the NDAA was modified to reduce the total authorized amount by five billion dollars.  The text of that revised NDAA was then passed as S. 1356 on November 5 with overwhelmingly bipartisan support by a vote of 370 – 58.  It was subsequently passed by the Senate and became the fifty-fourth consecutive NDAA on November 25.

To ensure that our military is able to confront the growing threats that the U.S. and our allies face, this resolution authorizes and prioritizes funding for the Department of Defense and other select national security programs within the Department of Energy for FY 2016.  In compliance with the budget agreement, the NDAA authorizes $607 billion defense funding for FY 2016, including $59 billion in OCO.  It also provides $610 billion for FY 2017, including an additional $59 billion in OCO.  This authorization includes reforms to the acquisition system to help improve accountability, simplify the chain of command, and streamline the bureaucracy.  The NDAA provides a new retirement plan for 83 percent of service members, many of whom were previously ineligible, through a Thrift Savings Plan.  The bill directs resources to key priorities, including the A-10 warplane, modernization of the Army National Guard, the Israeli Cooperative Missile Defense, and lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine.  To prevent tragedies such as the ones that occurred in recent years at the Washington Navy Yard, Fort Hood, and the Chattanooga Recruitment Center, the bill contains an amendment that ensures that members of the Armed Forces may carry firearms at military installations, reserve centers, and recruiting centers.  Lastly, the NDAA continues the prohibition on transferred Guantanamo Bay detainees from Cuba to the U.S. and limits transfers to foreign countries.

Congress must never forget its promises to our troops, our veterans at home, and the families of all who serve. Our troops overseas must be provided with the tools they need to successfully complete their mission.  Further, we must also work to ensure our veterans and the families of all service members receive the care and services they need in a timely, convenient, and efficient manner.  Keeping these concerns in mind, the NDAA for FY 2016 enables the president to use his authority to give the troops a 1.3 percent pay increase in 2016.  It rejects more than 60 percent of the president’s proposed increases to TRICARE Pharmacy co-pays and instead includes modest adjustments to co-pays for brand name and generic medications, at the minimum amount necessary to offset the retirement program.   The NDAA preserves Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for dual-military couples and covers 95 percent of estimated housing expenses, a one percent annual reduction for four years, to help preserve tax-free BAH benefit in the long-term.  Further, the resolution includes bipartisan reforms to enhance the prevention of sexual assault, the prosecution of offenders, and support for victims. 

On November 5, 2015, the negotiated version of the NDAA for FY 2016 came before the House for a vote and was passed—with my support—by a bipartisan vote of 370 to 58.  The Senate passed the NDAA on November 10, 2015, and President Obama signed the agreement into law on November 25, 2015.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 and FY 2016 Consolidated Appropriations

Each year, Congress must pass a budget agreement to set overall spending levels.  The budget resolution is used as a framework to guide the 12 individual appropriations bills that must be passed annually in order to fund the federal government.  As you may know, Congress passed H.R. 1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which was then signed into law by the president on November 2, 2015.  This bill made adjustments to previously agreed upon caps and set the top line spending levels for the federal government for FY 2016. 

With the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015 signed into law, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees worked to draft an omnibus Appropriations Bill to fund the federal government, and on December 15, 2015, H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2016, was introduced.  The bill combines the 12 separate appropriations bills into a single bill and provides funding for the whole government through September 30, 2016.  This $1.1 trillion appropriations bill is the product of a process that I have long criticized, a process that is too closed and driven by crisis and brinksmanship instead of by collaboration and big ideas.  That said, as speaker, I had a duty to take ownership of the process that I inherited and, in doing so, I worked hard with my colleagues to make the best of the situation in order to produce a bill that will allow the House to return to regular order.

The bill provides $537 billion in base discretionary spending for the Department of Defense (DoD) in FY 2016.  It supports essential readiness programs to prepare our troops for combat and peacetime missions by providing $208 billion, an increase of four billion dollars from last year for operations and maintenance.  An additional $609 million is provided to address readiness shortfalls.  The bill ensures that our troops have the resources they need to fight terrorism and the threat caused by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) by providing $59 billion in OCO funding.  Assistance is provided to our key regional allies in the Middle East and Africa, including training, equipment, and $55 million for the Iron Dome Weapon System to help detect and intercept incoming rockets in Israel.  An appropriation of $250 million to assist Ukraine to resist further Russian aggression following its illegal invasion of Crimea and destabilization of eastern Ukraine was also included.

H.R. 2029 also helps to sustain and modernize our military force by proving funding for equipment and platforms such as the Ohio-class submarine replacement, the Littoral Combat Ships, and the F-35 Joint-Strike Fighters.  Our 1.3 million active-duty troops and 811,000 Guard and Reserve troops are supported and protected by a one percent pay raise, $32.6 billion for medical care for troops and military families through the Defense Health Program, and funding for suicide prevention outreach and sexual assault prevention and response programs.

The consolidated appropriations also provide funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for FY 2016.  Tasked with safeguarding the homeland, DHS funds are targeted to critical security and law enforcement efforts that keep our nation and Americans safe, prepare for and prevent terrorist attacks on American soil, and ensure that the laws of the land are enforced.  H.R. 2029 provides $41 billion in discretionary funding for DHS –an increase of $1.3 billion compared to FY 2015.  The highest level of funding ever, $11 billion, is provided for Customs and Border Protection to help enforce our immigration laws.  The bill helps states and local communities prepare for, prevent, and respond to emerging threats from violent extremism and coordinated terrorist attacks by prioritizing funding for the Transportation Security Administration passenger screening and programs dedicated to the prevention of cyber attacks and human trafficking.  Finally,

FEMA’s state disaster relief requirement is fully funded at $7.4 billion with an additional $2.5 billion allocated for first responder grants.

The consolidated appropriations bill, H.R. 2029, was passed in the House on December 18, 2015—with my support—by a vote of 316 to 113.  Later that same day, it was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama.

Israel

America has no better friend in the Middle East than the nation of Israel. Not only is Israel the region’s only fully functioning democracy – with a government based on popular consent and the rule of law – but it is also a valuable ally against Islamic extremism and terrorism.  Our shared democratic values and national interests are supported by maintaining a close friendship with Israel.  Americans also have a strong interest in Israel achieving a lasting peace with its neighbors—including both the Iranians and Palestinians.

There are many differing opinions about how the conflict between Israel and Palestine can be resolved.  However, I believe at least one thing is clear: we cannot advocate for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that jeopardizes Israel’s safety or legitimizes terrorism.  Hamas, which is one of the two major Palestinian political factions, is an Islamist terrorist group whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, refuses to recognize Israel’s existence, and deems Osama Bin Laden to be a “martyr.”  Real peace will require Palestinians to recognize that Israel has a right to exist, even as it will require two states for the two peoples.

Further, the importance of preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capability cannot be overstated.  Should Iran become nuclear capable, not only would U.S. non-proliferation objectives be undermined, but other countries in the region could perceive their national security to be dependent on the attainment of nuclear weapons as well.  To express my support for the United States’ commitment to Israel’s defense during the 113th Congress, I signed on as a cosponsor of H.R.850, the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, which would have expanded U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Iran, and H.R.938, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, which would have dramatically strengthened the relationship between Israel and the United States.  Although both bills passed the House, neither was considered in the Senate before the end of the previous Congress.  As events continue to unfold, I will closely monitor developments in both Palestine and Iran while maintaining an unwavering commitment to the defense of Israel.

Iran Nuclear Agreement

On July 14, 2015, the Obama Administration announced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement between the P5+1 nations and Iran to curb the Iranian nuclear program.  A nuclear Iran is unacceptable, and the stated objective behind the JCPOA was to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability of producing a nuclear weapon.  Unfortunately, instead of demonstrating a commitment to preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons, the terms and timeline of the final deal that the Administration reached will at best briefly delay Iran from reaching this dangerous threshold.  The Administration has mishandled these negotiations from the start, and agreeing to this deal will make the Middle East a more dangerous place.  Lifting the sanctions prematurely on Iran is a mistake, allowing the ban related to ballistic missiles to lapse is foolish, and trusting a violent Iranian regime that has been nothing but hostile to America is an error we cannot afford to make.  In short, the deal between the Administration and Iran will make America and our allies less secure.

The House took up three measures to reject the president’s deal.  First, the House passed H. Res. 411, finding that the president has not complied with Section Two of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which requires the Administration to disclose to Congress the existence and content of all parts of the JCPOA, including any side deals.  This resolution was introduced in response to revelations about secret side deals between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency that the Administration withheld from Congress.  Not only was Congress prohibited from reviewing these deals as required by law, but the Administration failed to even make Congress aware of the existence of these side deals.

The second measure introduced in the House was H.R. 3461, to approve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was signed at Vienna on July 14, 2015.  This bill was a simple up or down vote on the president’s deal.  As expected, this measure failed, and I joined the large bipartisan majority in the House that rejected the deal by a vote of 162 to 269.  The third and final measure brought before the House was H.R. 3460, to suspend until January 21, 2017, the authority of the president to waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from the application of sanctions pursuant to an agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran.  Simply put, this bill would prevent the president from implementing the agreement through the lifting of sanctions.  This bill also passed in bipartisan fashion by a vote of 247 to 186 with my support.  Despite the president's decision to ignore the law and circumvent congressional review, I will work hard with my colleagues to ensure that this terrible deal is rejected.

Iraq

On October 21, 2011, President Obama announced the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and trainers from Iraq.  Since that time, violence in Iraq has been on the rise due to the vulnerabilities caused by ungoverned territories and political corruption.  After years of disrupted and isolated operations, leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq regrouped into a coalition known as ISIS, which now occupies roughly one third of the country.  This group embraces an extremist interpretation of Islamic governance, calls for a caliphate, renounces international norms, and threatens to destabilize the Middle East with its widespread terror.

We must remain vigilant to ensure that the gains made in the hard-won war in Iraq do not slip away.  In September 2014, Haider Al-Abadi was elected Prime Minister of Iraq.  He immediately implemented changes among the country’s military personnel, but the United States will continue to call for more inclusive policies for Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minority populations.  His government has requested international assistance to combat the threat of ISIS, and our military has provided air support, training, weapons, and gear to Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Security Forces.  Efforts to eliminate these threats of extremism remain vital strategic priorities for the United States and the rest of the free world.  You can trust that the safety of American troops in the field continues to be my most important consideration.

Afghanistan

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States made a commitment to defeat those responsible for the horrific attack.  As part of the broader war on terror, the U.S. military has effectively engaged our enemies in Afghanistan and employed counter-insurgency tactics to combat current threats to our national security. This military strategy necessitates enough troops on the ground to clear and secure areas, and move onto subsequent locations, while maintaining a level of operable safety.  After deploying the requisite number of troops to Afghanistan in 2009, the president had announced the withdrawal of roughly half of the U.S. forces during 2015 without regard to the situation on the ground, leaving only a “residual force” combined of U.S. and NATO trainers and mentors, along with U.S. counterterrorism forces.  The deteriorated situation in Iraq emphasizes the risks of a hasty and deadline-driven withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a major pivot from his original plan, President Obama announced on July 6, 2016, that he was slowing down the planned withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. These troops have helped to protect the U.S. embassy and coordinated with the Afghan National Security Forces to combat the Taliban and other extremist forces.  It is important that we signal to Afghan citizens currently working with our troops that we remain committed to the mission to strengthen the long-term diplomatic, development and reconstruction efforts in the area.

I believe that the continued engagement in Afghanistan is necessary and demands careful considerations for the safety of both our Armed Forces and citizens.  Our own security at home depends on denying Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups a safe haven to operate from abroad such as Afghanistan.  I continue to support providing our troops with the best possible equipment so they are able to complete their mission safely, effectively and on time so they can return to their families as soon as possible.

Supporting Our Troops

We must not forget that we are a nation at war.  The brave troops who serve our country worldwide have made and continue to make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our nation. I am grateful for their service, and am dedicated to ensuring that they are provided with the necessary resources to successfully complete their missions and return to their families as quickly as possible.  Congress must also work to ensure that the families of these courageous individuals are thanked and cared for while their loved ones are away.  As Congress continues to consider further legislation with regard to these issues, please rest assured that I will not lose sight of the effects that our national policy has on the lives of our troops, their families and our national security.

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