WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today took to the Senate floor to open debate on S. 2226, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024. The legislation, which Wicker led as the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, defines defense investments and priorities for the years ahead.
In his remarks, Wicker called on the Senate to advance the legislation to help “meet the dangerous national security moment.”
“This will be the 63rd time that Congress, the House and Senate, have a sent a National Defense Authorization Act to the president for his signature, and I know we will do it today. It is a testament to our commitment to our country and also to our service members,” Wicker said. “Our threats are much greater than they were 63 years ago in 1961, when the first NDAA was passed. Today, the United States faces the most complex and dangerous global security situation since World War II.”
The senator also called for new investments in national defense, advocating for the U.S. to return to Ronald Reagan’s policy of “peace through strength.”
“Senior national security officials have repeatedly told the Senate Armed Services Committee a simple message: American defense capabilities are spread dangerously thin. In fact, our military has not been spread this thin in 70 years. Our industrial base began to hum on the eve of war with the Axis powers. And since then, our worldwide military presence has underwritten our domestic tranquility,” Wicker said. “We have succeeded because we have followed the doctrine of ‘peace through strength.’ We believe the best way to counter today’s threats is to deter our adversaries from attacking at all. However, as today’s threats increase, our deterrence capabilities have decreased, and they must begin to increase and do so immediately.”
Wicker also cited a number of conservative victories in the legislation that he helped shepherd through the Armed Services Committee. Among other provisions, the legislation includes Senator Wicker’s Merit Act, which would help preserve the performance-based warfighting ethos of the military, and Senator Wicker’s FINISH It Act, which would compel the Department of Defense to use or transfer unused border wall panels so that border wall construction can continue. Senator Wicker touted these wins and others for the state of Mississippi after the committee approved the legislation in June.
Let me say that this year’s National Defense Authorization Act would help meet the dangerous national security moment we face and would equip our military with the tools necessary to implement the National Defense Strategy.
Chairman Reed will speak later about the ways this bill will help us deter adversaries and reinforce our defenses. And it’s been a pleasure to work with him and to advance our Constitutional duty to provide for the common defense.
We do this every year, Madam President. This will be the 63rd time that Congress, the House and Senate, have a sent a National Defense Authorization Act to the president for his signature, and I know we will do it today. It is a testament to our commitment to our country and also to our service members.
Our threats are much greater than they were 63 years ago in 1961, when the first NDAA was passed. Today, the United States faces the most complex and dangerous global security situation since World War II.
China is swelling its military might. Xi Jinping has directed his forces to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027. He’s actually said this is his goal - proclaimed it openly. A successful invasion of Taiwan would spell the end of the global security architecture that has helped ensure American peace and prosperity since 1945.
Meanwhile, Russia is executing the largest European land war in over half a century. But Vladimir Putin’s eyes are not only on Ukraine and Europe. He seeks influence across the global south and the Middle East.
Amid this resurgence of great power conflict, Iran and North Korea are increasingly bellicose. Their weapons programs and missile tests raise the specter of nuclear conflict to a higher level. The president of Israel mentioned this very effectively in a joint speech to Congress earlier today.
And indeed, our own homeland is no longer a sanctuary. Criminal Mexican cartels have exploited our porous southwest border. This has created a drug- and human-trafficking crisis that is killing thousands of Americans each year. Moreover, two decades after 9/11, our sovereign airspace is vulnerable. We witnessed that earlier this year when China flew a surveillance balloon over our country without any encumbrance.
Managing such a complex threat environment requires more resources and smarter approaches. Senior national security officials have repeatedly told the Senate Armed Services Committee a simple message: American defense capabilities are spread dangerously thin.
In fact, our military has not been spread this thin in 70 years. Our industrial base began to hum on the eve of war with the Axis powers. And since then, our worldwide military presence has underwritten our domestic tranquility.
We have succeeded because we have followed the doctrine of “peace through strength.” We believe the best way to counter today’s threats is to deter our adversaries from attacking at all. However, as today’s threats increase, our deterrence capabilities have decreased, and they must begin to increase and do so immediately.
For years, Madam President, our defense industrial base has languished. Anemic budgets created a brittle industry that cannot ramp production to meet the needs of today.
This year’s NDAA is an important step forward in our quest to rebuild our arsenal. Ideally, we would have an annual 3 to 5 percent boost to our topline above inflation. 3 to 5 percent boost above inflation to our topline. Yet even without that budget increase, our committee has managed to advance a strong, bipartisan product that contains numerous important provisions. Let me summarize a few.
Our secret weapon, first of all, has always been our people. So, supporting our military personnel is key to any successful NDAA. This bill authorizes a 5.2 percent pay raise for our service members, and it includes a host of other quality of life improvements for our troops and for our families.
The bill also contains provisions that will help the military solve its recruiting crisis. And I’m glad to note we included a massive expansion of Junior ROTC, the JROTC program, an initiative that instills values like citizenship and public service in our young people and no doubt increases interest in military service.
A 19th century American Navy captain said, “Whoever rules the waves rules the world.” Our committee agrees. This year’s NDAA supports our shipbuilding programs by fully authorizing LPD-33, the Marine Corps’ top priority. The bill decisively rejects the Biden administration’s misguided proposal to retire several ships too early.
We also included support for our submarine programs. The legislation addresses ongoing maintenance delays. We are sending more funds to our shipyards. It expands our deterrent capabilities with the sea-launched cruise missile, and it allows us to make good on our commitments to the United Kingdom and Australia, commonly known as the AUKUS agreement.
The NDAA also delivers a host of powerful munitions.
The bill makes six more munitions eligible for multi-year procurement contracts, including the highly regarded Tomahawk missile. This missile is one of the INDOPACOM commander’s top priorities for deterring Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific. The commander said he needed this additional procurement, and this committee bill gives it to him.
These multiyear commitments send a clear demand signal to our industrial base. We have got to manufacture this ammunition. We have got to manufacture these weapons. They also allow us to replenish our stocks while securing victory for Ukraine against our strategic adversary, Russia.
And we will produce these arms at home – equipping American troops with weapons made by American workers.
Our committee realizes military competition in the 21st century will be decided also by our willingness to harness emerging technology.
So, this NDAA accelerates the development of artificial intelligence, offensive cyber, hypersonics, and unmanned platforms. We intend to lap Beijing in the 100-year innovation marathon. We need to lap Communist China. So, we’re authorizing a new Pentagon authority within the Office of Strategic Capital. The bill also establishes investments in space launch infrastructure to secure the high ground in the Sino-American space race.
As always, partnerships with our allies act as a force multiplier on all the tools we are providing American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. I am glad this bill enhances security cooperation with allies in every part of the free world, from the Baltics to the Pacific.
The bill also addresses the crisis at the southwest border, and it is a crisis. We do this by requiring the Department of Defense to develop a strategy for countering fentanyl. A DoD strategy for countering the deadly drug of fentanyl. It also authorizes the department to act against criminal Mexican cartels in cyberspace. Today, the department unbelievably pays rent to store previously-purchased border wall materials. We don’t put them up to protect our border, but we pay rent to landowners to store these border wall materials. This legislation, on a bipartisan basis, compels them to use or transfer those materials so that border wall construction can continue.
This bill focuses the Pentagon on deterring real wars, not fighting culture wars. Our NDAA sends a signal to Department of Defense bureaucrats that Congress intends to rein in divisive social policies.
This year’s bill limits the amount we spend on salaries of DEI staff. It restores a culture of meritocracy and calls our service academies to focus on forming effective officers, and not on hosting Berkeley-style seminars.
Time forbids me from listing all the provisions we’ve included in the NDAA. But before I finish, I should note that we have an all-too-rare chance to return the Senate to regular order today, and it gives us a chance to avoid a costly, wasteful continuing resolution for our military.
For the first time in years, the Senate Majority Leader has put the defense bill up for consideration with months left in the calendar. Still we must be mindful of the fleeting time, but we must take this chance to avoid another self-inflicted real cut to defense, and that’s what a continuing resolution always does when we have to retreat to that. Let’s avoid that, and we are doing that today. We’re going to take up five amendments that we’ve agreed by unanimous consent to bring to the floor. The managers package contains 50 amendments that have been agreed to by the committees and the leadership – 25 amendments sponsored by Democrats, 25 amendments sponsored by my party, the Republican party. And we have a chance to continue this with votes tomorrow. And I think we should proceed with dispatch, Madam President, working into the night if necessary next week to get this bill done after having a full debate on ideas submitted from both sides of the aisle. Let’s work thoughtfully to deliver a bill to the president’s desk that commits this Congress to a national policy of preparedness.
Let me quote President Theodore Roosevelt, who endorsed such a policy of preparedness. He said, and I quote, “never in our entire history has the Nation suffered…because too much care has been given to the Army, too much prominence given it, too much money spent upon it, or because it has been too large. But again and again we have suffered because enough care has not been given to it, because it has been too small, because there has not been sufficient preparation in advance for possible war.”
We need to heed those words today, and what President Roosevelt was saying, it will cost a lot to deter our enemies, but it would cost a lot more if we do not. We cannot wait a moment longer to consider this year’s NDAA. Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.