Troops Need More Than “Support” Rhetoric from Democrats, says Sullivan

Senate Democrats Filibustering Defense Approps; House Democrats Stalling FY 2020 NDAA Agreement

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) rebuked Senate Democrats yesterday on the floor of the Senate for continuing to filibuster defense appropriations, and House Democrats for refusing to reach a compromise in the conference committee with their Senate counterparts on the bipartisan Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Both pieces of legislation are crucial for supporting ongoing national security priorities and properly resourcing America’s military members, particularly those serving overseas.

The Senate’s version of the FY 2020 NDAA passed out of the Armed Services Committee, on which Sullivan sits, by a vote of 25 to 2, and the full Senate with 85 senators voting in support.

On October 31, a procedural motion to begin the Senate’s consideration of a package of spending bills, including the FY 2020 Defense Appropriations bill and the Labor Health and Human Services Appropriations bill, failed to achieve the necessary 60 votes. 


Remarks on Defense Appropriations and the FY 2020 NDAA

Mr. President, we just celebrated Veterans Day here in the Senate, back home, and across our great country in the States that all of us represent. Everybody was celebrating our troops, our military, and supporting their families.

You hear that word ``support'' a lot when it comes to Veterans Day and our military and their families, but I am going to talk a little bit about that rhetoric. That is great. Senators talk a lot. But that is very disconnected from what actually is going on in the Senate right now and what is happening in terms of the action of supporting our troops.

I came to the floor a couple of weeks ago to talk about this. I was pretty fired up. I am someone who is very collegial with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but the one thing I have noticed is that there is talk on supporting troops and then there is action. The rhetoric, particularly with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, doesn't always match what is actually happening.

I would like to explain to my constituents at home, the American people, and anyone watching what is happening right now with regard to supporting our troops--the action, not rhetoric--the action. Two weeks ago, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle filibustered the Defense appropriations bill. That is the bill that funds our troops. We had a big budget deal. We all agreed to it.

It is hard to vote for it. I voted for it because it actually supports rebuilding our military pretty significantly after the Obama-era cuts. I voted for that.

We are starting to bring up these minibus appropriations. We had one a couple of weeks ago. We debated and voted on it. The plan was to bring up the Defense approps bill. What did my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do? They filibustered it. It was the ninth time since I have been in the Senate that my colleagues decided to filibuster the spending for our troops. There is no other bill in the body of the Senate that the Democrats filibuster more than the bill that funds our troops. They don't want you to know that. They don't go home and brag about it because they should be ashamed about it, but that is what they did.

Despite this budget deal and despite all of this great support for our troops, right now, my colleagues, for the ninth time since I have been a Senator, which is 5 years--nine times they filibustered the spending for the men and women who serve in the military. I ask the leaders to come out and explain that to the American people. Explain that to the press. Explain that to the people watching on TV. They don't. I think most of my colleagues don't want to do it, but they are told to do it because their leadership wants another priority. That is what is happening.

They talk about supporting our troops, but then the action is that we are actually not supporting our troops at all. We are keeping funding away from them because we are trying to leverage the desire to support our military and a Defense appropriations bill for other political goals. This has happened nine times.

There is no other bill since I have been elected to the Senate that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle filibuster more. When they want leverage on a nonmilitary issue, they filibuster spending for the troops. I would welcome some of my colleagues to come and explain why they do that. That is one issue.

Another issue is not my colleagues in the Senate, but it is certainly the Democrats on the other side of Capitol Hill. We are now debating the National Defense Authorization Act--the NDAA, as we call it. This is the heartbeat of the Congress. Why? It has passed this body 58 years in a row. That is the closest thing we have to a guarantee in this body. Members--Democrats and Republicans--come together, and we set forward--coming out of the Armed Services Committee, on which I sit--the NDAA, which oversees, reforms, and authorizes important programs for our national defense and sets spending authorization for the entire military. Again, this process is normally very bipartisan, and it has been and continues to be in the Senate.

I give Chairman Inhofe, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, my good friend from Oklahoma, and Senator Reed from Rhode Island, the ranking member, enormous credit for getting a bill that came out of committee 25 to 2. That is very bipartisan. Then, when it came to the Senate floor, it was 86 to 8. OK. That is the Senate saying: Hey, this is really important. We are going to take care of our military. We are going to lay out the policies and the topline numbers for rebuilding our military after the massive cuts from 2010 to 2015. So that is positive. 

Why am I complaining about it? Well, that bill right now on the House side, as we have gone into conference, is stuck. It is stuck. Many of the more extreme Members on the House side, who really aren't big supporters of the military--let's call a spade a spade--are now not allowing us to move forward on any kind of compromise in the broader NDAA as we move into conference.

There are provisions that are very important to the military that this body strongly supported in a bipartisan way, but right now, because of what is going on in the House--the leadership in the House, which seems to be a lot more focused on other issues and not the national security of our Nation, is not moving forward on any compromise. Who does this benefit? Well, it certainly doesn't help our troops. It certainly doesn't help our military. It certainly doesn't help their families. I can guarantee you, whether it is our adversaries or potential adversaries--Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran--as they are watching the stalemate on the NDAA, they are very pleased.

This is something we need to come together and address. I am asking the chairman of the Armed Services Committee over on the House side, Chairman Adam Smith, and others to work with the Senate, work with Chairman Inhofe, work with Senator Reed on getting to the compromises we all know we need to move this bill for the fifth year in a row to support our military. We think that should be based on the Senate bill.

When you have 86 Senators vote for something--a super-bipartisan majority--that should be the basis for compromise. But it is stalled. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Chairman Inhofe, has done a great job. He is a very patient man. He and Senator Reed, the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, are frustrated. We are frustrated. The troops are frustrated. We don't have much time to waste. 

Again, I would like to conclude by saying that there is a lot of rhetoric here. There is a lot of rhetoric about supporting our troops. But what we need is action. By the way, I think a lot of times my colleagues are like, well, you know the men and women in the military are not really watching this. They don't really know that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have filibustered the funding for what they need nine times in the last 4\1/2\ years--nine times. It is disgraceful, in my view. People think, well, they are not really watching what is going on with the NDAA, how the extreme elements of the Democratic Party and the House side are making sure there is no compromise so that we can't move this bill. Guess what. They are watching. They know this.

When they don't get support from the Congress of the United States, it is a problem for our military, not just in terms of the resources they need but in terms of morale. I am going to ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: The next time you go home and give speeches about supporting our troops, supporting our families, do me a favor. Don't come back to this body and filibuster their spending or, for the Members of the House, don't stake out such obstinate positions that you know there is going to be no compromise on an NDAA bill that is really important to our military and has strong bipartisan support in this body.

I know some of my other colleagues are going to be on the floor talking about this NDAA issue, talking about the Defense appropriations issue. Again, let's match the rhetoric we all talked about with regard to Veterans Day--about supporting our troops--with action on the floor, not just hot air and words.


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