Senate Democratic leaders are hoping to filibuster a bill this week that's vital to Virginia's servicemen and women and the state's defense industry.
The National Defense Authorization Act is a massive bipartisan bill that passes annually. It's so big there are always controversial parts of it - like the fight over the detention center at Guantanamo Bay - but it always garners bipartisan support because the military needs it. This year it's hit a snag though. Senate Democratic leaders are trying to block it because it contains an additional $38 billion while Republicans aren't allocating extra money for the non-defense side of the budget. Virginia Republican Rob Wittman accuses Democrats of treating troops like pawns.
“That’s not the way we ought to be treating our men and women in uniform.”
Virginia's two Democratic senators agree. Senator Mark Warner describes why the defense authorization is so vital to the state.
“For Virginia, we are the highest per capita defense spending state in the nation, we have the world’s largest Navy base, we have the Pentagon, we have enormous military facilities from all branches of the service, and we want to support those not only because of their economic impact but we see firsthand how much in harms way so many of our men and women in uniform are put into in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places around the world.”
The reason Democratic leaders oppose the bill is because it exceeds the spending caps under sequestration by 38 billion dollars by putting the money in the Overseas Contingency Fund. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine supports the bill but says he doesn't like how the GOP's budgeting.
“I think the way the NDAA has been structured relies on a really goofy budget gimmick that’s dishonest, that’s bad for defense and bad for the non-defense accounts. I think the best place to have that battle is with the appropriations bills. But we’ll see how it goes here.”
The debate around the defense bill focuses on sequestration. To put it simply, Republicans want to shield the defense industry from budget cuts that are set to kick back in this fall, while they want the cuts to rip across the other side of the budget, which includes everything from food stamps to education. Warner says the GOP approach is bad for the commonwealth.
“We need to put an end to the stupidity of sequestration. And while I firmly support restoring the sequestration cuts to defense I also believe we need to restore those same cuts that have been made to education, in research and other key domestic priorities as well. So you can’t get rid of half the problem and not the other half as well.”
Still, Warner says the debate over sequestration should wait till after the defense bill is passed.
“While we’ve not been successful yet, but ultimately we’re going to have to grapple with the revenue side of the house in tax reform and the entitlement side of the house in making sure that Medicare and Social Security are going to be here in 30 years.”
But there don't seem to be any negotiations going on over sequestration, according to Senator Kaine.
“I’m not involved in any and I’m not sure that they are yet, but I’m hopeful they will because allowing the sequester to go forward and roll back full force in October is really going to hurt our country.”
Unlike Virginia's Senators who want to delay the sequester debate, Democratic leaders are hoping to use the filibuster to force the spending debate to take place now. Congressman Wittman says Democratic leaders are misguided.
“You can’t just say ‘let’s spend more and if you don’t let us spend more in the discretionary areas, we’re not going to vote to fund this nation’s military.’ Those things are two unrelated issues.”
With the state's defense industry and service members caught in a political battle, Wittman says Congress is skirting its constitutional duty.