On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, I joined my House colleagues in passing the National Defense Authorization Act. The bill represents an important step forward in the ongoing effort to ensure that our men and women fighting abroad are equipped with the strategies, tools and support systems they need to try and achieve the President’s objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, wind down those operations and return home safely.
The defense bill, which was passed on Friday, May 29, equips the military for the 21st century by strengthening military readiness and counterterrorism efforts. It enables the military to go after terrorists with better, smarter strategies and provides our forces the tools they need to disrupt and dismantle terrorist plots and keep America safe. It bolsters the President’s antiterrorism strategy by strengthening strategic partnerships with key nations like Pakistan and Yemen and focuses on understanding and stopping terrorist recruitment and fundraising tools. The bill also makes historic investments in nonproliferation programs to keep vulnerable nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of our enemies. Further, the House bill works to protect our men and women on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan by helping commanders cut through the red tape and get equipment out more quickly to protect our warriors from IEDs and other threats.
At home, the House bill would provide our troops a 1.9% pay raise, extend TRICARE coverage to dependent children up to age 26, and increase the family separation allowance for soldiers whose deployment requires them to live away from their families. And in a historic triumph over discrimination within the ranks of our military, following in the tradition of desegregation of the military and allowing women to serve, the bill repeals the outdated “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which forces gay men and women to hide or deny their sexuality or face discharge. The repeal will be contingent on the Department of Defense completing its review and the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certifying that the repeal would not impact military readiness.
The bill also includes a provision I authored with Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) that will strengthen oversight of armed security contractors in Afghanistan and close a tax loophole currently being exploited by some U.S. contractors operating in Afghanistan. By classifying workers in Afghanistan as “independent contractors” rather than employees, Blackwater, now going by the name ‘Xe,’ (pronounced ‘Z’) appears to have avoided tens of millions in employment-related taxes. The change is expected to generate millions in lost federal revenue which has allowed Blackwater to underbid other competitors that abide by U.S. labor and tax codes.
At a time when our brave men and women in uniform are fighting two wars, Congress is fighting to fulfill its sacred promise to our troops by giving them the policies, tools and equipment they need to try and achieve the President’s political objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, bring the fighting to a conclusion and come home safely.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.