Thursday, December 9, 2010

Udall: Critical National Defense Act Falls Victim to Partisan Obstruction

Bill Includes Provisions Udall Advocated or Authored, Including Increased Pay and Benefits for Military Families, Expansion of Behavioral Health Programs, End to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Mark Udall again joined a majority of his colleagues in voting to begin debate on the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would have ended the military’s outdated “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. But for the second time this year, Republicans chose to block a pay raise for the troops, as well as critical provisions to keep service members and our nation safe.

Udall, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, helped shape the bill. Provisions he fought for include a behavioral health program based on one at Fort Carson, which helps ensure soldiers can get treatment before, during and after they serve on the battlefield. He proposed a related amendment to the bill, which would have expanded this program to not fewer than four other installations. Another provision Udall authored would have extended TRICARE health insurance for military families, enabling the children of active duty service members and retirees to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

“Today, my Republican colleagues filibustered a pay increase for our troops at a time when our country is losing jobs and military families across the country are struggling to get by. They blocked provisions that are critical to defending our nation and keeping our service members safe. In fact, this will be the first time in 49 years that defense authorization legislation has not passed into law – all because Republicans object to repealing an outdated policy that is harming our ability to retain and recruit qualified service members while we’re at war,” Udall said.

“If my colleagues were serious about resolving our differences over this bill, they would have allowed us to begin debate,” Udall continued. “Instead, we’re gridlocked over politics at the expense of our troops and our national security. The American people – and our service members – want us to lead. Obstructing debate is not leadership.”

In addition to the provisions Udall authored, he has helped lead the efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He believes the outdated policy has weakened our national defense as it forces out otherwise qualified service members solely because of their sexual orientation.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision would have respected the Pentagon’s timeline for studying how to repeal the law. It would give military leaders the flexibility to implement repeal in a way that tracks with military standards and guidelines. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen testified earlier this month that repeal could be carried out with minimal impact on readiness. Gates also urged Congress to repeal the law before the end of the year.

“At a time when we’re fighting two wars, we need every skilled service member we have – airmen, mechanics, translators, and others,” Senator Udall continued. “The Pentagon’s top leaders, the President, and a majority of the American people support repeal. We owed it to our troops to at least debate the issue.”