WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today voted in favor of final passage of a revised “National Defense Authorization Act,” S. 1356. The legislation provides a number of important reforms for the Defense Department and authorizes vital resources for the nation’s soldiers, veterans, military installations, and defense manufacturing. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 91-3.
“This bill sends a signal to the world that the United States is committed to defending our interests,” Wicker said. “It also provides our all-volunteer military with the means they require to protect the nation and provide for their families. This increase in overall defense spending will safeguard our troops from shortsighted budget cuts that would impact readiness and morale.”
S. 1356 adheres to the budget agreement passed by Congress in late October. That agreement adjusted spending caps by $80 billion over two years – $50 billion the first year and $30 billion in the second year equally divided between defense and non-defense spending. Overall, it authorizes $606.9 billion. The defense bill contains pay raises for America’s troops, cuts wasteful spending, and improves quality-of-life programs for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The legislation implements a major reform that would allow our younger troops to contribute to their retirement without having to serve a full 20 years.
The measure would also prohibit President Obama from relocating more than 50 terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay to the United States.
“For years, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress has voted to keep some of the world’s most notorious terrorists from being brought to our shores. This year is no different. The President’s political promises should not trump the safety of the American people or the law.”
Last month, President Obama vetoed an earlier version of the bill despite the fact that it authorized $612 billion in defense spending – the very amount he requested in his budget proposal. Senate Democrats also continue to block the Senate from considering appropriations bills that would fund the programs authorized by the now-passed defense bill.
Together, NDAA and the defense spending bill would impact Mississippi in the following ways:
- Columbus/Meridian: Wicker succeeded in securing a provision to the defense authorization bill to authorize $187.2 million in procurement for 28 UH-72A Light Utility Helicopters (LUH). These helicopters would be used to replace the Army’s legacy aviation training aircraft. Another provision would allow student pilots to have adequate training and flying hours at Columbus Air Force Base and Meridian Naval Air Station.
- Gulfport-Biloxi: Supports a new Army National Guard Aviation Depot at the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport, as well as the continued mission of over 11,000 Americans who work at Keesler Air Force Base.
- Pascagoula: Wicker included a provision to authorize $476 million in advance procurement for an additional America-class amphibious assault ship, as well as $250 million in research and development funding for the next generation of amphibious ships. The nation’s current amphibious fleet of 30 ships falls short of Global Combatant Commander requirements, which call for more than 50 amphibious ships. The measure also authorizes construction of two new DDG-51 destroyers, $550 million for a new LPD-17 amphibious ship, and approximately $476 million for a replacement LHA amphibious ship.
- Starkville: Completes the Army Reserve Center for equipping and training military personnel.
- Tupelo: Recognizes the importance of the Army’s Apache helicopters and the Tupelo Army Aviation Support Facility.
- Ensuring the Vitality of the National Guard: The defense bill includes provisions supported by Wicker to maintain National Guard personnel levels and prevent additional Apache helicopters from being transferred away from the Army National Guard. Last year’s defense bill included a provision authorized by Wicker and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that created a commission to study the future of the Army. This independent commission is required to make a recommendation on size and force structure to Congress by February 2016.
- Preventing Military Suicide: The bill includes provisions based on the “Military and Veterans Mental Health Provider Assessment Act of 2015” coauthored by Wicker and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., requiring the Secretary of Defense to ensure that all primary care and mental health care providers of the Department of Defense receive evidence-based training on the recognition, assessment, and management of individuals at risk for suicide.
- Ensuring Religious Freedom in the Military: Finally, the defense bill includes a Wicker proposal to encourage the Department of Defense to continue supporting service members’ rights to express sincerely held religious beliefs.