Some NDAA Amendments

Here are some of the NDAA amendments. I will get back to the rest of them shortly.

The Conaway Amendment

This amendment would prohibit the Department of Defense from entering new biofuels contracts while sequestration remains law. If sequestration expires or is repealed, current law would be amended to require the Department of Defense to include calculations of any financial contributions from any other federal agencies. Under the Obama administration, the Department of Defense began a new policy to increase the use of biofuels. Since 2000, the Air Force had been leading the lead role in Department of Defense efforts for biofuels. The Air Force was supposed to be prepared by 2016 to acquire alternative biofuel that would equal 50% of its domestic requirements for aviation fuel. According to a 2011 Rand Corporation report, there is not a direct military benefit to switching to biofuels. The Heritage foundation was quick to point that out in their dismissal of using biofuels in the military. However, the Rand Corporation also pointed out that there were indirect benefits. I will quote them at length:

“If the Department of Defense were to encourage early production experience, government decisionmakers, technology developers, and investors would obtain important information about the technical, financial, and environmental performance of various alternative fuel options. If favorable, that information could lead to a commercial alternative-fuels industry producing strategically significant amounts of fuel in the United States. Once established, a large, commercially competitive alternative fuel industry in the United States and abroad would weaken the ability of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to assert its cartel power. Lower world oil prices would yield economic benefits to all fuel users—civilian and military alike. Lower prices would also decrease the incomes of “rogue” oil producers, and thereby likely decrease financial support to large terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah.”

Heritage points out that the Department of Defense tries to mitigate the risk of cartel power and from getting oil from enemies, by saying that they receive oil from a number of different countries. Practicality is the driving factor, the Department of Defense tries to purchase fuel from the closest geographic location to where it is needed to help limit the risks. If the biofuels are needed to be produced domestically, there is some salience to the argument Heritage makes about the biofuels negatively impacting the military.

For those representing more rural areas or areas where they could grow more crops or agriculture for use in biofuels, it might make more sense to advocate for biofuels and more contracts from the Department of Defense. As the Rand corporation points out and I quote above, the military using more biofuels would be able to create more biofuel resources and a bigger biofuel economy which would be immensely positive to the economies of those communities. It is probably using this logic where Don Bacon came up with the idea to vote against the Conaway amendment. He joined 39 other Republicans in opposing the amendment. Nearly all Democrats who voted on the amendment voted against it. It failed 225-198.

Recommended vote: No

The Polis Amendment

Rep. Polis’s amendment was to reduce the Department of Defense’s budget by 1%. The amendment would exclude military, reserve, and National Guard personnel. It would also exclude the Defense Health Program account. While a lot of people like to say that there are “no sacred cows” when it comes to reducing the debt and deficit, there are very few members of Congress who do actually vote to reduce the spending for the Defense Department. Of course, the point of this NDAA was to greatly increase the spending for the military. The Polis Amendment would have done quite a bit to dismantle the other actions of the NDAA. Voting in favor of the Polis amendment, one that had no chance of passing, invited a number of criticisms of not supporting the troops. There were 4 Republicans who voted in favor of the amendment, there were 69 Democrats who voted in favor.

Recommended vote: Aye

The Nadler Amendment

The Nadler Amendment would strike a section from the NDAA. This section prohibited the use of funds appropriated to transfer or release prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to the United States. Transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the United States and trying those they wish to prosecute, is part of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s steps to closing Guantanamo Bay the correct way. For many Republicans, the closure of Guantanamo Bay should not happen.

As of January 2017, 41 men were still imprisoned, according to the ACLU. 5 of those men were cleared for release by the government but are still being imprisoned. 26 of the prisoners imprisoned have not been charged with a crime but still have not been cleared for release. The vast majority of the prisoners who have been released were released by the Bush administration (73%). According to the ACLU, it costs more than $7 million/year to imprison a single detainee in Guantanamo.

There is quite a bit of a disagreement with the rates of recidivism for released Guantanamo prisoners. The New America Foundation found that of the 620 Guantanamo prisoners released abroad there were 54 who were confirmed or were suspected of engaging in militant against the US or non-US targets. The House Armed Services Committee released a report in January of 2012 that 27% were confirmed or suspected to have been engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities. They noted that five of 66 detainees who left Guantanamo between February 2009 and October 2010 are confirmed or suspected of involvement in terrorist or insurgent activities. Perhaps I will write more at a later time about the transferring of prisoners to federal prisons instead of releasing them outright. But to close Guantanamo the correct way, there should be actual trials to determine if they should be prosecuted.

This is, perhaps, not surprising then that Republicans overwhelmingly voted against this amendment but then bragged about it on social media. Despite all of the norms that have supposedly changed in politics in the past two years, it is still a popular position for conservatives to be against closing Guantanamo Bay or transferring prisoners to have their day in court and for liberals, the opposite.

Recommended vote: Aye

The Jayapal Amendment

The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund is, according to the National Priorities Project, “a separate pot of funding operated by the Department of Defense and the State Department, in addition to their ‘base’ budgets.” This funding has very little oversight and is commonly referred to as a slush fund. In addition, the OCO fund is not subject to sequestration. It is not out of the question that lawmakers would put additional money into the OCO fund to shield it from oversight and to provide the Department of Defense with money that sequestration is not supposed to allow.

Pramila Jayapal proposed an amendment that increases to the budgets of OCO and the National Defense Budget should be matched dollar-to-dollar in non-defense discretionary budget. She highlighted money that could be spent on infrastructure projects or for research. She argued on her speech on the House floor that this money would be put to good use by providing for domestic national security. Despite widespread beliefs that infrastructure spending would be good and its high polling numbers, almost no Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favor of this amendment. The amendment was rejected 245-179.

Recommended vote: Aye

Blumenauer Amendment I

Blumenauer Amendment II

Rep. Blumenauer proposed two separate amendments to the NDAA. The first one was H. Amendment 166. This amendment would have limitations on the development of an INF range ground-launched missile system. The second was H. Amendment 170. This would provide spending limits on the Long Range Standoff weapon until a Nuclear Posture Review is submitted to Congress including an assessment of the weapon.

Results – both amendments failed. H. amendment 166: 173-249. 1 Republican voted in favor. H. amendment 170: 169-254. 2 Republicans voted in favor.

Recommended vote: No recommended vote

Aguilar Amendment

This is amendment numbered 168. This would extend the CBO cost estimate on fielding, maintaining, modernization, replacement, and life extension of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems from covering a 10-year period to covering a 30-year period. This would provide a longer range cost estimate of the nuclear weapons. For many, whatever the cost of the nuclear weapons, it is justified for the United States to maintain our status as a nuclear superpower. The CBO cost estimates will simply be a waste of time. Even worse, if the cost estimates show that it will be cost prohibitive for certain nuclear weapons or facilities, then there might be a push for closing of these facilities or reducing nuclear weapons. There might be a large reduction in weapons or jobs. This amendment failed 188-235. 7 Republicans joined with Democrats voting in favor of the amendment.

Recommended vote: Aye

Garamendi Amendment I

Garamendi Amendment II

The first Garamendi amendment is H. Amendment 169. This amendment would modify and expand the annual report on the plan for the nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear weapons complex, nuclear weapons delivery systems, and nuclear weapons command and control system that was called for in the 2012 NDAA. Perhaps not surprising, it failed 192-232.

The other Garamendi amendment is H. Amendment 177 which would strike section 123 from the NDAA regarding icebreaker vessels. This amendment likewise failed.

Recommended vote: No recommended votes

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The Hartzler Amendment

Background

In June of 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the ban on transgender servicemembers would be lifted. Secretary Carter said that he would tell commanders to “start with the presumption that transgender people can serve openly without impact on military readiness.”  With that he also outlined that those who are transgendered and in the early process of their transition would not be allowed to enlist. An individual would have to provide documentation from a doctor showing he has been living as his new gender identity for 18 months and is free of any distress. The announcement indicated that the military would begin recruiting new transgender recruits. US military services chiefs asked for an additional 6 months to “study the issue” and complete work to help integrate new transgender recruits. Under the new guidelines, transgender soldiers would be able to serve openly and could not be discharged just for being transgender.As a bit of background, after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, while gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members were allowed to serve openly but as part of the exclusions, those who had “psyschosexual disorders” could not serve openly and could be medically discharged if they were suspected of being transgender.

As we know from past experience with the implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and before, servicemembers serve with those ma not conform with the straight heterosexual identification. Prior to “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the subsequent repeal, many servicemembers served (and continue to serve) in the military honorably while identifying as something other than heterosexual. This is the case with transgender servicemembers, despite the fervent beliefs of others. The Williams Institute at University of California at Los Angeles estimates that there are over 15,000 transgender individuals serving on active duty or in the Guard or Reserve forces. Perhaps more surprisingly, they estimate that over 130,000 veterans or retired from Guard or Reserve service identify as transgender. The Rand corporation estimates that there are between 1,320 – 6,630 transgender service members in the active component.

Vicky Hartzler and the talking points

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican serving the 4th Congressional District of Missouri, initially introduced and then withdrew an amendment banning transgender people from serving in the military. She specified that if the military doesn’t block the new policy from being implemented, she would reintroduce her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. She would allow the banning of transgender people from service into law. Facing some pressure, she decided to soften the language of her amendment. Instead of calling for a ban, she instead introduced an amendment that would prohibit funding from the Department of Defense to provide medical treatment (other than mental health treatment) related to gender transition. A senior House Democratic aide told Huffington Post that Jim Mattis called Hartzler and asked her to pull the amendment.

Rep. Hartzler made two objections to having trans soldiers serve openly and be recruited. The first is that it would be too expensive. She claimed that in the first 10 years, it will cost the military $1.35 billion to cover transition-related surgeries for new servicemembers. This $1.35 billion is part of “precious taxpayer money.”

This argument that the money from taxpayers should not be used to pay for transition surgeries is one that we will revisit, again.

Her other objection is that transgender individuals are not ready to serve because of their medical condition. If “flat feet, asthma, and sleepwalking are disqualifying, so too should being transgender, because it’s a medical condition.” She concludes her parade of horribles with an idea that if transgender individuals are recruited, there would be disturbing privacy issues because you have to shower with individuals born of the opposite sex.

Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, said “I could not imagine having to share berthing or showers with somebody who was a girl and din’t have the surgery to become a man but kept the girl stuff and now she’s with a bunch of guys or vice versa.”

Somewhat forgotten in these statements is the role of transgender individuals who have already served or are currently serving.

Rep. Hunter was also against ending the ban of gay soldiers in the military. He framed the argument, then, just as he does now, around the issue of privacy. In a 1993 talk, Dr. Frank quoted Hunter as saying

Why won’t you listen to the mothers and fathers, military leaders like General Schwarzkopf and hundreds of thousands of young Americans in uniform who are begging you not to force our young Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen into close living quarters with homosexuals?

Of course this issue never really arose.

After the ban of gay soldiers was lifted in the UK, a press official at the Ministry of Defence released that the worries of privacy and sharing showers with gay soldiers was a dud. Despite widespread threats of resignations from the military, they did not see almost anyone resign because of the lack of privacy.

The final objection that is implicit in these critiques are the idea that the military should not be involved in “social experimentation.” This, if you know your military history, is the same argument that was previously used to argue against military integration and more recently the argument used to prevent gay or lesbian soldiers from serving openly.

The financial costs

Nobody really knows where Hartzler is getting her idea of how much it will cost. Her estimation of $1.35 billion over a ten year period is also based around a cost of $130,000 per surgery. Quick math would be that there would be just over 10,000 of the gender surgeries over the course of 10 years. Her estimation is that this is basing it off of 30% of those deciding to opt for the surgeries, which would mean about 3,000 trans soldiers to be recruited/year.

The Rand Corporation which put together a study on how transgender service members would affect the military. Based on their estimations from private health insurance data, they estimate that between 29-129 service members would utilize transition related health care. They also found that about 140 service members would initiate the transition-related hormone therapy. This is compared to 278,517 service members accessing mental health services in FY 2014.

The Rand Corporation’s estimation was that the health care cost by allowing transgender soldiers would increase between $2.4 to $8.4 million annually. This would hardly affect a $6 billion in FY 2014.

Military readiness

The critique that something would affect military readiness is a tried and true strategy. During the debates prior to the implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” Senator Sam Nunn and Colin Powell framed their objection to homosexuals serving in the military around troop readiness. In Unfriendly Fire by Dr. Nathaniel Frank, he notes that Senator Frank Murkowski framed his objection to homosexuals serving in the military around health issues. Even after being assured of HIV and AIDS screenings, he objected based on the strain to the Veterans Administration.

The Rand Corporation also took a look at what would happen for military readiness. They concluded that less than 0.0015% of the total available labor-years would be affected. This is, in part, because less than 0.1% of the total force would seek transition-related care that “could disrupt their ability to deploy.”

The Marine Corps who previously argued against ending the gay band released a report that concluded that lifting the gay ban is “unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion.” I am going to echo the arguments from ending the ban of gay soldiers to ending the ban on transgender soldiers. As Lawrence Korb, the assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan wrote that “telling military members that they can’t deal with open gays, that they’re not mature enough or well disciplined enough is divisive.” I believe that telling soldiers that they are not mature enough to handle transgender soldiers is likewise divisive.

In fact, we know from the past that people have served with transgender soldiers and are currently serving with them. There has been nothing to show that troop readiness is lower because of it.

The arguments that cohesion for troops will disappear have been made each time that the expansion of military service has been expanded beyond straight white males. Each time, it has been decisively been shown to be wrong. Why would we assume that this will be the time that it will finally fail? Because…that’s what people say.

Don Bacon

While the Hartzler Amendment is not overturning the decision put in place by the Pentagon under the Obama administration, the amendment trying to limit the healthcare provided to those willing to serve is a direct message to transgender soldiers that their sacrifice is not worth those of others. The reason that it is important to combat lies and misstatements is because people are being treated very differently and in a poor manner. They are being treated this way because certain people believe that they are having an adverse role in the military.

Rep. Bacon gave an interview on KFAB discussing the role of transgender soldiers. He praised Rep. Hartzler changing the scope of her amendment to not have taxpayer money pay for any “conversion surgery or anything like that.” It should be noted that conversion surgery is considered medically necessary for those who suffer from gender dysphoria. But there are more treatments than just surgery for those who suffer from gender dysphoria and there are more health related issues than just surgery. The American Medical Association, since 2008, has recognized that hormone therapy is also considered medically necessary for those who suffer from gender dysphoria. For some, gender-affirming surgery may be the only effective treatment.

He also called for respect to everyone, as he likes to do from time to time. This respect is limited to the impact that you have on taxpayers, however, and if you do something that he deems that the taxpayers do not want then that respect can be taken away. Effectively determining that some people are not worthy of being covered for health care coverage that they are entitled to through their sacrifice and willingness to serve the country is, in fact, the opposite of respect.

Rep. Bacon is concerned that a number of people would not be able to deploy because they are going through conversion therapy which does impact readiness, is his argument. Again, the Rand Corporation found that this is a miniscule number. He also then compares when he took too much painkillers and not being able to be around nuclear launch codes before deciding to reassert what the vote was about.

He could mention that transgender Americans have served openly in forward locations such as Camp Anaconda and Balad Air Base in Iraq, New Kabul Compound and Kandaha Air Base in Afghanistan, and aboard US Navy ships operating in the Persian Gulf. Currently 18 other countries, including 2 of our strongest allies in Britain and Israel, allow transgender soldiers. Certainly, Rep. Bacon understands this from his close military friendships with soldiers in Israel.

The vote was about whether US taxpayers should cover surgeries and things like that, he says. This is true. But the vote was whether or not transgender soldiers should have their care covered that they were entitled to when they signed up for military service or should they be treated like second class soldiers. And the answer for Rep. Bacon is that they should be treated like second class soldiers. By ensuring that their care is not taken care of, Rep. Bacon is effectively deciding that transgender people should not serve in the US military and retroactively degrades the service of those serving or who have previously served. Certainly, this is the conclusion of his vote, even if he refuses to state it outright. At the very least, he is discouraging those who are transgender from serving in the military. I wonder what degrades military readiness more, transgender soldiers or certainly, none at all.

The vote

Ultimately, this amendment failed. 209 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, including Don Bacon. 24 Republicans joined all 190 Democrats in rejecting the amendment. While Bacon calls for an open discussion about the issue, perhaps he should talk to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis regarding it.

This has been emblematic of Bacon’s tenure in office. He consistently calls for people to be “respectful” or civil while advocating and supporting policies that do anything but. While many members of Congress who are facing tough challenges in 2018 or represent moderate districts have tried to be moderating their stances so that they can get re-elected, Rep. Bacon has consistently voted the Republican leadership line. The idea, although not a hard and fast rule, is that you should represent your constituents and their ideology to get elected and re-elected. Certainly, people like Ron Johnson have shown that to be not 100% true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don Bacon: Pro life

When Rep. Don Bacon announced his candidacy, one of the ways he decided to attack Brad Ashford was on the issue of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act. He released a statement regarding his support.

“I strongly support The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. I’m pro-life and I’m encouraged that Congress acted last night to help protect the unborn. Moreover, scientific evidence is overwhelming that an unborn child past 20 weeks has the ability to feel pain and the vast majority of the public believes that aborting a child at a late stage during pregnancy is flat out wrong.”

Of course, Bacon is just relying on the idea that the science is overwhelming because he is regurgitating the talking points of the National Right to Life Committee. The Journal of the American Medical Association based on a summary of the research makes the case that pain is not felt until nearly 30 weeks. But even if you accepted the National Right to Life Committee’s statement of the evidence, you would accept that pain is felt around 12-16 weeks. Most doctors that the National Right to Life quotes in their report argue against the position of the National Right to Life. For instance, Dr. Nicholas Fisk who was quoted 27 times, argued that until 24 weeks gestation, fetal pain is not possible at all. Even the argument that anesthesia is used to dull fetal pain is questioned, Dr. Mark Rosen and Dr. Scott Adzick argue that anesthesia is used to limit the dangerous movements of fetuses. The scientific evidence is not overwhelming, by any stretch of the imagination.

What is more important to many of the Republicans who support such a bill is the polling data. In a 2014, Quinnipiac University Poll, they found that 60% of respondents would support a 20 week ban. The National Right to Life Committee cited polling numbers repeatedly as to why such a bill would be passed. They found that 64% of respondents would support similar legislation.

It should be noted, that nowhere in Rep. Bacon’s statement on 20 week abortion ban does he state that life begins at conception. He argues that it is unpopular and that the fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks based on “overwhelming” scientific evidence.

Rep. Bacon also co-sponsored H.R. 681, Life at Conception Act. The Life at Conception Act would provide “equal protection under the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution for the right to life of each born and preborn human person.” The text of the bill goes further to say that human person and human being includes each member of the species at all states of life “including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.” Rand Paul who introduced similar legislation said that this would give every fetus the same right to life and is entitled legal protection. This would effectively outlaw abortion and provide a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

In a recent poll in May of 2017 by Gallup, 79% of respondents agreed that abortions should either be always legal or sometimes legal. This is consistent with what we have seen for the last 13 years, about 80% of Americans believe abortions should be legal, at least in some cases. Over 60% of respondents, according to Quinnipiac believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. Only about 10-15% think that it should be illegal in all cases. Again, this is fairly consistent over the years. This legislation argues that abortion should always be illegal. About 70% of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll agree with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Rep. Bacon cites, as part of his reasoning, the need for the 20 week abortion ban because of public polling numbers without referring to what he is thinking morally. But both him and the National Right to Life Committee run away from the polling numbers when the polls show that most Americans support Roe v. Wade.

Moreover, The Life at Conception Act does not have any exceptions for those who are rape victims, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. This legislation would effectively ask women who were raped and impregnated to bring to term the child who was the product of that rape. Or in circumstances where the mother would have a critical issue, the doctors would have to weigh which person has more of a right to live. This may delay necessary lifesaving procedures for either the mother or the child as they have to sort out the legality of their actions.