There is no greater responsibility of the federal government than to provide for the safety and security of the American people. I have found myself making this point over and over again throughout my short time in Congress.
With the wide range of issues under debate here in Washington, some of my colleagues seem to forget that our most basic responsibility as outlined in the Constitution is to “provide for the common defense” of the American people.
That is exactly what we did last week when the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a strong bipartisan vote of 344 to 81. As you may remember, this is the bill that authorizes funding and sets policy for the entire United States military. Needless to say, it is a critically important piece of legislation that Congress must pass each year.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Vice Chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee, I was able to play a key role in the bill as it moved through our Committee and then to the House floor for a vote.
The bill is especially important this year given President Donald Trump’s pledge to grow our military. Our bill increases total military spending by 10% over last year’s levels, which will help reverse the severe readiness crisis that has been plaguing the military.
Consider these numbers: thirty years ago, the Fiscal Year 1988 NDAA represented 27.3% of total federal outlays and 5.2% of projected GDP. This year’s bill authorizes funding for the military at $688.3 billion, which is 16.8% of total federal outlays and 3.4% of projected GDP.
We are spending less proportionally today on our military despite the fact that we face a wider range of threats across the globe. That should be troubling to every American.
Thirty years ago our nation’s military faced only one serious threat: the Soviet Union. There was no ISIS or al Qaeda or other radical Islamic terrorist organization threatening the United States. Iran was not an existential threat to the American people. North Korea wasn’t developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. China was not on the radar as it relates to military power. We weren’t worried about cyberattacks or cyber espionage.
The threat environment today is incredibly complex, and we must ensure that our military funding is in line with the realities of the threats we face. This year’s NDAA is a big step in that direction.
The bill increases the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Army Guard and Reserve, Naval and Air Reserve, and Air Guard. It also provides for the procurement of critical military aircraft, ships, and equipment while also setting money aside for maintenance and repairs to current military resources.
Important to our area, the bill authorizes the construction of three more Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), which are built in part by Austal USA in Mobile. It is critical that the bill support three ships because that is the number necessary to keep the shipyard operating at full speed and keep the cost of the ships down.
Given the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea, the bill boosts our nation’s missile defense programs. A number of important cyber security provisions and reforms related to the space domain are also included in the bill.
In an effort to support our service members and their families, the bill authorizes a 2.4% pay raise for our troops. It also includes significant provisions related to military health care, housing, and benefit programs.
All told, this bill will help ensure the safety and security of the American people through rebuilding, repairing, and reforming our nation’s military.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.