Last week, Congress made significant progress on critical legislation that supports our common defense and ensures protection of U.S. interests around the world. While much work remains in the days and weeks ahead, I am proud that lawmakers in both chambers are one step closer to completing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the sixtieth year in a row. As you might know, passage of the NDAA is important because it authorizes vital funding for U.S. military personnel, readiness and operations. This significant piece of legislation is traditionally a bipartisan effort in Congress, supporting the brave men and women who make every mission possible.
BIPARTISAN VERSIONS OF NDAA
While differences will need to be worked out soon, I am encouraged that both the House and Senate advanced bipartisan versions of the NDAA in their respective chambers last week.
Certainly, the legislation that passed in the Democratic-led House isn’t perfect, but I believe it reflects a worthwhile and truly bipartisan starting position in the bicameral negotiations to come.
In fact, the official bill title of the NDAA in the House even honors the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of Texas. And there are many worthwhile provisions and priorities, including a well- deserved 3% pay increase for service members.
TRICARE ECHO IMPROVEMENT ACT
I was very pleased that the House adopted, as an amendment to the NDAA, the TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act that I introduced earlier this year. The legislation outlines commonsense changes to TRICARE’s existing Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) program.
While Congress created this program for families of active-duty service members to serve as an alternative to Medicaid’s Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver programs, it currently fails to provide comparable services.
Since Medicaid is a program based on state residency, military families often face HCBS waiver access challenges due to frequent moves required by their military service. The TRICARE ECHO Improvement Act, however, enhances ECHO by better aligning respite care and coverage of medical equipment home and vehicle adaptations with current state offerings.
Our service members bravely volunteer to keep our nation safe every day, and I am proud that my legislation affirms that they should always have access to the best care, along with their families.
The NDAA each year outlines the strategy and authorizes the resources needed for facing down threats around the world – whether that’s countering the aggressive actions of China, Russia and their proxies or defending against the state-sponsored terrorism of Iran, North Korea and other bad actors.
INDO-PACIFIC REASSURANCE INITIATIVE
For example, the House- passed NDAA authorizes $3.6 billion for an Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative to optimize the presence of U.S. forces countering China and based in the surrounding region, strengthen military exercises and training, improve regional infrastructure, enhance military responsiveness, enhance logistics and assist our allies and global partners.
This marks the start of a long-term strategy to fund U.S. capabilities in the Indo- Pacific, which is a key region for our nation’s security interests.
In addition to requiring the first comprehensive assessment of threats to the U.S. posed by Russia, the House- passed NDAA fully funds the European Deterrence Initiative. Language was also included to prevent the use of Department of Defense (DOD) funds to draw down U.S. forces in Germany and Europe – unless DOD certified that the reduction wouldn't harm U.S. and allied security.
FORT SILL, TINKER AIR FORCE VITAL SUPPORT
In both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA, I was encouraged to see robust funding authorized to support the ongoing missions and military training efforts based in Oklahoma.
Specifically, in the Fourth District, this includes vital support of the Long Range Precision Fires and Air and Missile Defense initiatives at Fort Sill as well as aircraft maintenance and sustainment operations at Tinker Air Force Base.
As both chambers move into negotiations on a final NDAA for fiscal year 2021, I am grateful for the leadership and expertise of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe.
However, even after a final NDAA is enacted, half the job remains. To actually fund the critical policies and programs, lawmakers must also come together to pass the defense appropriations bill. I am hopeful that lawmakers will fully affirm their commitment to our common defense by doing just that.