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Daily Press: Defense bill needs signature

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Washington, October 19, 2015 | comments

Last week, Congress fulfilled its constitutional duties by passing the annual defense policy legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act, for fiscal year 2016. The bill simply awaits President Barack Obama's signature to become law and assure our men and women in uniform that they will have the tools and resources they need.

Despite strong bipartisan support for the legislation, the president has promised to veto the bill in order to gain leverage for increased domestic spending demands. I encourage him to reconsider his position. At no other time in our nation's history has an administration held hostage for political purposes the authorization that our military needs to defend against our enemies and protect our freedoms. This bill will not only enable us to fulfill the obligation of assurance that we owe our troops and allies, it will help us maintain healthy families and communities and a robust local economy.

By characterizing this debate as one pitting domestic spending against funding our military, the administration has failed to acknowledge that, in Virginia and many states all over the country, defense spending is domestic spending. Active duty service members and veterans, as well as our military families, account for more than 10 percent of the commonwealth's total population. Virginia employs more shipyard workers than any other state, in addition to being home to a significant number of federal civilian workers and companies that provide services to support national security efforts. This bill isn't just about tanks and submarines; it's about our families, friends and neighbors.

This legislation helps our men and women in uniform by adjusting pay and retirement benefits to more closely reflect what our troops would be earning in private sector jobs. It removes barriers that prevent reasonable access to urgent medical care for members of the armed services, while also expanding employment opportunities for those exiting the service. The bill helps us retain our most experienced service members and makes those individuals safer by enhancing and improving military training and modernizing our resources and programs. Our servicemen and women put their lives on the line every day, and the least we can do is offer them the security of knowing that they can provide for their families and plan for their futures.

This bill also includes measures that will help invigorate our economy here at home. In the words of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the U.S. Navy has "a critical partnership with the American people and with the shipbuilding and defense industries." Nowhere is that partnership more evident than right here in the Commonwealth. Our shipbuilding and ship repair industries play an important support role in the health of our naval forces and provide thousands of jobs for skilled craftsmen and artisans. This act honors the contributions of those expert laborers by preventing public shipyard workers from being furloughed in the event of a government shutdown and by requiring that all significant repairs to Navy vessels be made domestically. That means more jobs and more job security in one of Virginia's most essential industries.

The president requested $612 billion for our nation's defense programs, and this legislation grants him that full amount, giving the Department of Defense the tools necessary for defeating ISIS and other burgeoning military threats. It also contains provisions to counter Iran's malicious activities in the Middle East and provide funding for Israeli missile defense. In short, this bill makes our communities better and our nation safer.

National security should not be a partisan issue, and for the past fifty years, this annual defense bill has enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support. Why now — with ISIS, Russia, and China knocking at our door — has military spending become a bargaining chip for unrelated policy measures?

The negotiations that led to this bill's passage involved congressional Democrats and Republicans putting politics aside to do what is best for our troops and the United States as a whole. I urge the president to do the same by rescinding his veto threat and signing the National Defense Authorization Act into law. Our troops, their families, and our communities depend on strategic, purposeful defense policy devoid of Washington's routine games. This is not the time to let them down.

Congressman Wittman represents the 1st District of Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives and is chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee.

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