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Vital National Security Legislation Passes Senate with Rounds’ Support

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, last week delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019. The NDAA passed the Senate tonight by a vote of 85-10. It now heads to a conference committee, where differences will be worked out with the House-passed NDAA.


“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am pleased we as a committee have once again come together, in a bipartisan fashion, to advance the National Defense Authorization Act, a vital piece of legislation for our national security,” said Rounds. “I’m pleased we were able to put together legislation… that builds on last year’s efforts to provide adequate tools so our forces can fully rebuild our military and adequately address the challenges they face.”

Video of Rounds' remarks:

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:


As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am pleased we as a committee have once again come together, in a bipartisan fashion, to advance the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a vital piece of legislation for our national security.


I thank the chairmen and ranking members in both the House and Senate, for their leadership, Senator Inhofe, and the members on both sides of the aisle who have continued to work together on this important defense bill.


Congress, as an institution, continues to come together each year to show our troops and their families that they have our full support.


The federal government’s number one responsibility is to provide for the defense of our nation.


This year’s NDAA, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, honors our Chairman who has dedicated his life to serving our country.


Few people are more passionate about our troops and our military readiness than Chairman McCain and the courage he has exhibited during his years of service - and in his current battle – has inspired us all.


I’m pleased we were able to put together legislation – bearing his name – that builds on last year’s efforts to provide adequate tools so our forces can fully rebuild our military and adequately address the challenges they face.


But the most important capability we have is our people – the men and women in uniform who defend our nation - and the families who give them the strength to do so.


That is why I am pleased this year’s NDAA includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for our troops.


We are also fortunate that the leader of our armed forces, Defense Secretary James Mattis, has provided us with a national defense strategy that clearly articulates the current and emerging threats we are facing.


This strategy focuses on the central challenge facing our nation: the reemergence of long-term strategic competition with our near-peer competitors, such as Russia and China.


It is our duty to provide Secretary Mattis and all of our troops with the tools they need to execute this strategy.


The world is more dangerous than any time since the Cold War-era:


  • China and Russia are both strategic competitors,
  • great uncertainty remains on the Korean peninsula,
  • Iran continues to threaten Middle Eastern stability, and
  • our forces remain engaged in combat in Afghanistan and conducting counter-terrorism in multiple areas of operation.


Our superiority in the maritime, air, ground, space and cyber domains – once taken for granted – are constantly challenged by our strategic and regional competitors.


Even more concerning, the threat of sequestration and repeated Continuing Resolutions have prevented our troops from being fully equipped to prepare and defend against these threats.


As a result, modernization, readiness and sustainment have all suffered.


It is our duty to provide funding stability and avoid arbitrary budget caps that constrain defense spending below that which is required to protect our nation. 


Failure to provide adequate, stable funding disrupts planning, impacts responsible obligation of critical funding resources, degrades readiness and inhibits modernization.


And there have been unimaginable real-world consequences.


The high-operational demand with an insufficient fleet, over-burdened maintenance infrastructure, and an erosion of training all were factors in a string of recent Navy surface fleet incidents.


The Marine Corps and Air Force have had their own serious readiness issues with the F-18 and B-1 fleets, which experienced multiple “Class A” accidents – some of which caused the loss of life.


And, the shortage of pilot- in every service - is a strategic readiness concern that must be addressed.


Our sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines deserve the very best in training and equipment.


This year’s NDAA does that by providing a total of $716 billion dollars in fiscal year 2019 for national defense.


Voting for this vital legislation is not an act of budget-busting.


In fact, in 2010, we spent $714 billion dollars, just $2 billion dollars less than this year on national defense.


But a dollar went a lot further back then.


Adjusted for inflation, this bill actually authorizes more than $110 billion dollars less than in 2010.


We are slowly digging ourselves out of a hole that has hollowed our armed forces.


The real budget-busting is being done with mandatory spending.


Since the Cold War, the stakes for failing to take decisive action have never been higher.


This legislation will enable our armed forces to continue taking necessary steps to rebuild and restore our national security.


For example, in the Navy, this year’s NDAA builds on last year’s bill to improve ship and aviation readiness and the infrastructure necessary to support the fleet – which directly addresses a significant problem the Armed Services Committee has examined in multiple hearings this year.


Significantly, it improves the Navy's capacity to execute maintenance in Naval Shipyards by continuing to grow the workforce while investing in shipyard infrastructure, including facilities, equipment and information technology. 


This increase in workforce will help the Navy to meet scheduled ship maintenance, support additional ships, and reduce the backlog that has accumulated from over a decade of increased operational tempo.


Similar plans to restore readiness will be executed across the force, so long as we honor our commitment to invest in a complete lifecycle acquisition system.


As chairman of the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am pleased that the NDAA includes important provisions that take steps to address the serious cyber threat our nation faces.


This includes:

  • providing the Secretary of Defense with the authority to conduct military operations in cyberspace,
  • developing a program to establish cyber institutes at educational institutions, and
  • investing in cyber programs in the defense industrial base.


These are important steps we can take to defend the nation in the cyber domain.


I am also glad that the bill we are considering today includes strategic measures I offered to improve officer personnel management and increase the capabilities of our training ranges throughout the DOD, to better support the objectives outlined in the National Defense Strategy.


Today, a number of our personnel and training systems are outdated and fail to provide our forces with the tools they need on the modern battlefield.


This bill changes that.


While we champion this year’s bill, we must also extend our view beyond fiscal year 2019.


We must be prepared for the future while reacting to the present, especially as it relates to funding.


For the past three years, I have served as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, bearing witness to potential challenges that could threaten our national security if we do not address arbitrary budget caps placed on our defense.


These arbitrary budget caps have forced the kind of false choices that are potentially so devastating for our armed forces.


We must also avoid the false choice of paying for readiness while assuming risk for modernization or vice-versa.


We cannot let the pursuit of the perfect modernization solution prevent us from implementing mature technologies – to address short-term capability gaps – now.


The bill we are considering today avoids these choices.


In closing, I thank Chairman McCain, Ranking Member Reed, Senator Inhofe and my other Armed Services Committee colleagues and everyone on staff for their work on this year’s NDAA.


I look forward to getting this bill to the president’s desk in a timely manner as we continue our strong tradition of coming together, in a bipartisan basis, to support our troops and their families so that they can continue to keep us safe.