SENATE FLOOR STATEMENT:
Mr. REED. Madam President, I rise today in support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. I commend the work of my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee--especially the chairman, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan--on reaching an agreement with the House to complete this important legislation.
It is also appropriate that this legislation be named in honor of both Senator Carl Levin and Congressman Buck McKeon, the chairmen of their respective committees who this year are retiring after extraordinary service and dedication to the Nation and particularly to the men and women of the armed services. It is another reason why this bill is particularly special--because it represents the culmination of the work of these two extraordinary gentlemen.
For over 50 consecutive years this Senate has passed a defense authorization bill. I hope we will be able to send the bill before us to the President for his signature. We owe it to our servicemembers to pass a law that will support them and enable the DOD to execute this year's budget efficiently and effectively.
This year, once again we have had to make very difficult decisions, especially because of the economic circumstances we face as a nation, the resources, and the threats which are challenging at this moment in our history. But this bill will allow the Department of Defense to combat these current threats, plan for future threats, and provide for the welfare of our brave service members and their families.
While it is disappointing that we are not able to bring this bill to the floor for amendments in regular order because time really is running out, this is a very good bill which is based on the principle of compromise between many parties. It is critical at this moment that we pass it for the men and women in uniform for the United States.
I wish to point out a few highlights of the bill.
First, it authorizes a 1-percent across-the-board pay raise and reauthorizes over 30 types of bonuses and special pays for our men and women in uniform.
It includes numerous provisions that build on the reforms we passed last year to further strengthen and improve sexual assault prevention and response programs. It is unacceptable and it is completely antithetical to the ethic of the military that anyone in uniform would be a predator. To be a soldier, to be a marine, to be a sailor, to be an airmen--it is about your subordinates, your comrades, helping them and sacrificing for them, not using them. So we can do more, and we must do more, but I am pleased to see that we have taken important steps and we are following through on these steps.
The legislation in general improves the ability of the Armed Forces to counter emerging and nontraditional threats, particularly cyber warfare. This is a new dimension of warfare. It is one we are coping with, but I don't think anyone should feel we have the technology, the techniques, the operations, and the insights to feel fully competent. This legislation will help us move in that direction.
The legislation also authorizes the full request of $4.1 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces as the U.S. and coalition forces shift our mission to training, advising, and assisting these forces, letting them take the lead in combat operations. It is very essential.
It also authorizes several train-and-equip programs to assist foreign militaries conducting counterterrorism and counternarcotics operations. Of particular note are programs and resources that will go to Iraq and Syria, where we face serious challenges, where we have to provide the kind of support that is indicated in this legislation.
This year I once again had the honor of serving as the chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee alongside Senator John McCain, the ranking member. Our subcommittee focused on the needs of the Navy, Marine Corps, and strategic mobility forces. We put particular emphasis on supporting Marine and Navy forces engaged in combat operations, improving efficiencies, and applying the savings to higher priority programs. Specifically, the bill includes the required funding for two Virginia-class submarines and a moored training ship and approves other major shipbuilding programs, including funding for two DDG-51 destroyers, the aircraft carrier replacement program, and three littoral combat ship vessels, and it permits incremental funding for another amphibious transport dock ship.
I am particularly pleased about the funding for the Virginia-class submarines and the DDG-1000 destroyers. So many Rhode Islanders build them, design them, and they are an incredible part of our national security. So we are reinforcing shipbuilding programs that are not only under budget and ahead of schedule but are vitally important to the security of the United States.
Along these same lines, I am pleased to note that the bill establishes the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund to provide resources and to manage the construction of the Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine program. According to testimony provided to the Armed Services Committee, the Ohio-class replacement is the Navy's highest priority program. We are currently constructing attack submarines. These submarines are designed to go against other submarines, to deliver special operations troops, and to conduct fire missions from the sea.
The Ohio class will replace our ballistic missile submarines, which are part of our deterrence forces. These submarines have nuclear weapons and are part of our triad, our architecture to deter the use of nuclear weapons; we have to replace them. It cannot be done just with Navy resources because it is not just a Navy program, it is a national security program embracing our nuclear deterrence. This fund is a good starting point for that process, and I am very pleased to see it in the legislation.
Working together with Senator McCain, particularly following Senator McCain's lead, this bill increases accountability for the taxpayers' dollars spent on several major Navy programs. For example, the bill includes a provision to require the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation to submit a report of the current LCS test and evaluation master plan for seaframes and mission modules. The report would provide an assessment of whether completion of the test and evaluation master plan will demonstrate operational effectiveness and operational suitability for both seaframes and each mission module.
This is a very important program. We want to make sure we get it right. We want to make sure we build in efficiencies where we can, and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation will help us do that.
The bill also includes language that will continue support of and advance planning for the refueling of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and preclude the Navy from spending any funds to inactivate this ship. Again, this goes to the congressional mandate of having a specified number of aircraft carrier battle groups, and without refueling the Washington, we will not meet that legislative mandate.
So we hope we will go forward this year and provide the requisite funding to complete the refueling, but at least we are moving in the right direction. I think that is important.
I particularly want to voice my thanks to Senator McCain and other members of the Seapower Subcommittee for their diligence, for their leadership, for their assistance in not only giving what our Navy and Marines need, but also making sure that the taxpayers are protected as best we can. And, frankly, we have to do more with respect to efficiencies, economies, and being wise in our allocation of resources.
Before I conclude with my remarks regarding the traditional defense programs, I want to touch on two other aspects of the legislation, one in particular with respect to the Defense act. I am pleased that it includes the HAVEN Act. This is bipartisan legislation that I introduced with Senator Johanns to help more veterans with critical repairs and modifications for their homes so they are safer and more accessible.
This program is directed at our disabled and low income veterans. They find themselves out of the service, they have benefits, but they have needs to fix their homes and this program will help them do that. It establishes a competitive pilot program allowing nonprofit organizations throughout the country to apply for grants administrated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help make key improvements to the houses of veterans with disabilities, or low-income veterans.
It is fitting we take this step to give back to those who have made a personal sacrifice for our Nation, and I am particularly delighted I was able to work with Senator Johanns. As I noted in my remarks yesterday, he is retiring, but his decency, integrity, intelligence, and commitment to his constituents and also to the men and women of the Armed Forces will be missed here.
I am also glad that, on a topic not usually found in the defense authorization bill, we reached a bipartisan agreement on a package of public land bills, including two longstanding priorities for my State. For years, I have supported the preservation and renewed development of the Blackstone River Valley and have led the effort to designate parts of that area as a national park, which the bill before us will finally establish.
In 1793, Samuel Slater began the American industrial revolution in Rhode Island when he built his historic mill on the Blackstone River--really the first industrial-scale operation in the United States--and from that, much has ensued. Today, the mills and villages throughout what is now known as the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor in Rhode Island and Massachusetts stand as witness to this important era of our history.
Much credit has to go to Senator John H. Chafee, who picked up the ball from those who preceded him. In fact, I was told last weekend that this attempt to get recognition goes back as far as a letter to Lady Bird Johnson in the 1960s, asking if she could help get land in the Blackstone Valley preserved. So it has been a long and winding road, and John Chafee was a key person in that process.
Creating a national historic park within the existing corridor would preserve the industrial, natural, and cultural heritage of the Blackstone Valley for future generations. It will improve the use and enjoyment of the natural resources, including outdoor education for young people; it will assist local communities while providing economic development opportunities; and it will increase the protection of the most important and nationally significant cultural and natural resource of the Blackstone River Valley.
I can recall last year inviting Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to Rhode Island, and we kayaked along the Blackstone River. When I was young, in the 1950s and 1960s, the idea of going into the Blackstone River, which was then frankly an industrial waste zone, would have been ridiculous. Today, we not only use the Blackstone River for recreation but, with this national park designation, we will be able to do so much more.
The public lands package also includes legislation to authorize the National Park Service to look at another river system in Rhode Island and adjacent Connecticut--specifically rivers within the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed--for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. These rivers are, again, so important to Rhode Island.
One of the things you discover as you go around Rhode Island, particularly after a storm when you can see the true power of these rivers, is that development during the industrial revolution was centered around rivers because water was a source of energy. As a result, many of our communities are clustered around the rivers and have great historic, cultural, recreational, and environmental value.
So let me thank not only my colleagues here but in the House, Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin, for their great effort; also the Members of the Massachusetts delegation, because the Blackstone runs into Massachusetts; and I particularly want to thank Sheldon Whitehouse, a stalwart when it comes to all these issues--anything to do with the environment, particularly Rhode Island's environment. His leadership and his support were absolutely critical in getting this measure today included in this bill. I would also like to thank the countless number of stakeholders in Rhode Island and Massachusetts who have tirelessly advocated for the preservation of the Blackstone River Valley all these years.
We have a good national defense authorization bill before the Senate, and I urge all of my colleagues to support it. I look forward to being able to witness, even remotely, the signing of the Levin-McKeon national defense authorization.
I yield the floor.