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 If sequestration expires or is repealed, current law would be amended to require the Department of Defense to include calculations of any financial contributions from any other federal agencies.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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