Defense Bill Clears House, Heads to Senate then White House with Moulton Wins
WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that sets defense spending and policy for the 2020 fiscal year. The bill includes a number of important measures, both local and national, that Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) has championed as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which writes the bill, and as an appointee to the bill’s Conference Committee, which negotiates its passage.
“Massachusetts has a proud, patriotic history and has always played an outsized role in the nation’s defense. More than 200,000 people in New England work on defense projects funded by Congress, and in particular in developing the next-generation technologies to keep our troops safe overseas and our families safe at home. ” Moulton said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appointed Moulton to the committee of Representatives and Senators that negotiates the final passage of the bill, also known as the Conference Committee. In a statement this week, she thanked Moulton and his colleagues on the Armed Services Committee.
“We salute the patriotism and persistence of [House Armed Services Committee] Chairman Smith and all our Members who have worked tirelessly on this legislation to ensure that our military has the resources that it needs and that our nation maintains its qualitative military superiority,” Pelosi said.
Moulton used his position to ensure this year’s National Defense Authorization Act included the following items:
FULLY FUNDING THE LYNN-BASED GE ITEP PROGRAM
The FY 2020 NDAA includes full funding for the next installment of funding for GE’s Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP), which makes a new generation of helicopter engines for the military’s Blackhawk and Apache helicopters. Moulton has worked hard to secure funding for the ITEP program since his first day in Congress. Earlier this year, the federal government announced the GE Riverworks plant landed a half-billion dollar contract to build ITEP prototypes, the first stage towards full production. The Armed Services Committee-passed version of the NDAA includes a new installment of more than $200 million.
This funding comes less than a month after Moulton announced a major workforce development investment at Lynn Tech and throughout the region. Moulton worked with state and local leaders over several years to build a comprehensive plan to invest $5 million in workforce development efforts. The costs are split evenly by GE and the state. The Boston Globe said “hundreds of North Shore students will be able to attest to the fact that the local economy is better off” because Moulton held GE to its promises on the North Shore.
BREAKING THE STIGMA AROUND MENTAL HEALTH
Earlier this year, Moulton disclosed for the first time that he dealt with Post-Traumatic Stress from his combat tours in Iraq. When he made the announcement, he also made a major push in Congress for legislation that breaks the stigma around seeking mental health care and makes it easier to get help in an emergency. To that end, Moulton amended the NDAA to require service members who served in combat to get a mental health checkup within 21 days of leaving the battlefield and steered the amendment through his committee. During the conference, Moulton worked hard to keep the amendment in the final draft. A letter advocating for these mental health checkups is available here. The initial plan called for a checkup within 14 days, but the number of days was extended to 21 so that service members could spend time with their families immediately after returning from a deployment.
“Mental health checkups should be as routine in our country as going to the doctor for an annual physical,” Moulton said. “We can help break the stigma around mental health care that prevents too many people from seeking help.”
PROTECTING OUR COMMUNITY FROM FENTANYL
Moulton worked with Senator Chuck Schumer and fellow veteran Rep. Max Rose to include the Fentanyl Sanctions Act in the National Defense Authorization Act. The bill would apply sanctions to the foreign producers of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin and the leading cause of American overdose deaths. The vast majority of fentanyl on America’s streets comes from China, which has made promises to crack down on fentanyl production but failed to deliver. The passage of the Fentanyl Sanctions Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act means the U.S. government will be able to impose sanctions on international drug manufacturers who knowingly send synthetic opioids to drug traffickers and other criminal operations. The NDAA also includes $945 million to counter the trafficking of drugs, including opioids, across the globe.
Finally, this legislation would rally government around this mission by creating a new federal commission to combat synthetic opioid trafficking including the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of State.
China is currently using the promise to enforce the laws better as a bargaining trip in the president’s trade negotiations. By allowing the American government to sanction producers, Congress is taking away that bargaining chip from the Chinese, and ultimately saving lives by preventing overdose deaths. Moulton wrote about the bill earlier this year with a Republican colleague, Rep. Vern Buchanan from Florida, in an op-ed for The Hill.
PAYING THE TROOPS
The bill includes numerous provisions to meet the needs of our service members and our military families, including providing a 3.1 percent pay raise for our service members, and several provisions to improve housing for military families.
SUPPORTING OUR AFGHAN ALLIES
Moulton fought for the defense bill to include 4,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who served beside Americans in combat as translators and advisors. Afghans who serve beside Americans are targeted by the Taliban, and the Special Immigrant Visa program has been tied up in government bureaucracy because of the president’s immigration fight. Moulton has made it a top priority to clear the backlog ahead of any agreement with the Taliban that sees a drawdown of American forces and strands our allies in hostile territory.
Earlier this year, during the markup of the House version of the bill, Moulton offered an amendment to increase the visas by 4,000 but withdrew it because of concerns that there were no offsets for the costs of the visas. Moulton advocated for the amendment to be re-inserted during the final Conference Committee negotiations. It was.
FIGHTING FOR FAMILIES
The NDAA mandates 12 full weeks of paid family leave for workers across the federal government.
“People often say government should run like a business, and any CEO who wants to compete for the best talent has to offer competitive benefits. This will help attract the nation’s best to serve it,” Moulton said.
KEEPING OUR PROMISE TO MILITARY WIDOWS
The NDAA repeals the “Widow’s Tax,” which currently reduces payments to families of fallen service members from the DOD Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) by the amount they receive from the VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program. The conference report repeals this reduction over a three-year period, allowing surviving families to collect both payments in full.
“Widows of the patriots who gave their lives for this country should have our full support. Period. This should have been caught before it happened. I’m glad it has been fixed.” Moulton said.
PROTECTING OUR DRINKING SUPPLY FROM FOREVER CHEMICALS
The conference report prohibits the use of firefighting foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) after October 1, 2024, and immediately prohibits the uncontrolled release of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) and the use of AFFF in training exercises at military installations. The conference agreement encourages the Secretary of Defense to finalize cooperative agreements with states to address contamination by these substances and authorizes the National Guard to access Defense Environmental Remediation Account funds for the limited purpose of addressing PFAS and PFOA exposure and contamination resulting from National Guard activities in and around National Guard bases.
Moulton has heard from firefighters and service members in his district about their concerns related to PFAS, which is known as a “forever chemical” because it does not degrade over time. Democrats will continue to make this issue a priority in the New Year.
EXPANDING THE RANKS AND PROTECTING ALL WHO SERVE
The conference report includes several provisions to promote a more diverse and inclusive military. The bill also includes several provisions aimed at preventing and addressing sexual assault.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION
There are many other provisions of the bill. For more information about what’s in it, visit https://armedservices.house.gov/.
According to a 2015 study from the Donahue Institute for Economy and Public Policy Research at UMass the defense industry creates more than 200,000 jobs at more than 4,000 employers throughout New England.
Moulton has used his seat on the House Armed Services Committee to make sure the nation is making smart investments in next generation arms and technology. He has made a national call for Congress to use the NDAA and other debates to define a next generation of defense policy that invests in cutting-edge technologies so America can keep its competitive defense and economic edge in the world.