Videos & Speeches

I’ve come to the Senate Floor today to thank Chairman McCain for his efforts on the National Defense Authorization Act. Yesterday I was here speaking about the (21st Century) Cures Act – and I know that’s the business of the day – but I also want to recognize the importance of the NDAA and its soon, or hoped for, passage today or this week. I appreciate Senator McCain working with me and supporting my amendment to remove language that would allow this administration to expend taxpayer dollars on plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

As in previous years, the NDAA continues to prohibit the closure of GITMO and the transfer of detainees to U.S. soil – Fort Leavenworth in my home state of Kansas has been a site under this administration’s consideration. This administration and foreign countries have lost track of numerous detainees, which escalates the risk for our military men and women if the detainees return to the battlefield.

With the total reengagement rate [of] GITMO detainees returning to the battlefield at more than 30 percent, this provision is a life and death matter.

This defense authorization also halts troop reduction and increases the end-strength across our active, National Guard and Reserve forces.

In every Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing this past year with Department of Defense officials – from the Service Chiefs and to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – I received answers that concluded our Armed Services would welcome more forces, not less. 

I introduced the POSTURE Act, Senate bill 2563, with my colleagues Senator Blunt and Senator Perdue to reverse the force reductions, increase end-strength in the Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve and specifically increase levels for our ground forces in the Army and Marine Corps.

I am pleased that this defense legislation, the one we are considering this week, reflects this objective, and it stops the force reduction and increases the end-strength levels across the Armed Services.

There are many unknowns around the world, and to reduce the size of our defense force would be a mistake. We have been impacted already by budget decisions rather than based upon what our Armed Forces need to defend America.

Readiness is paramount, and this NDAA allows for increased funding to make certain we are training, equipping and readying our forces as challenges around the world unfold. As Chief of Staff of the Army General Mark Milley has repeatedly said, “Readiness wins wars.” 

The Big Red One – The Army’s First Infantry Division located at Fort Riley near Manhattan, Kansas, near Junction City, Kansas – has deployed its headquarters to Iraq for a second time in less than two years. That kind of turnaround requires the highest levels of readiness.

This bill also authorizes critical military construction funding for Fort Riley, for Fort Leavenworth and McConnell Air Force Base, helping Kansas remain a stronghold for military training and power.

As we head into these holidays, I’m pleased that service members and their families will receive with certainty upon passage of this bill that they will receive the benefits they have earned and they deserve – and that includes a 2.1 percent pay increase, which is the largest increase in five years.

As we pass this defense legislation to support our military men and women, those who serve our nation, we must take a moment today to also reflect upon the significance of this day, December 7, 1941: that horrific attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. That day forever changed our nation and our national defense. 

We should never forget those who perished in that attack as they made the ultimate sacrifice. Two thousand and eight naval men. A hundred and nine Marines. Two hundred and eighteen Army men. And sixty-eight civilians.

Shortly after I was elected to the United States Senate, December 7, 2010, I had the distinct opportunity to present service medals to Kansans who served and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

It took us 69 years after they survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, but I was honored to bestow U.S. Navy veterans Arthur Dunn and Paul Aschbrenner with their much-deserved commendations. It was a special moment that I will not forget.

To honor those who perished that day, as well as those who survived like Arthur and Paul, we must care for the 21.8 million veterans who live among us today and deserve the best our nation can offer.

We have an opportunity to better care for our veterans with the passage of H.R. 6416, the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016. I look forward to this legislation, which has passed the House and is coming to the Senate.It includes 76 bipartisan provisions to improve VA health care, streamline disability compensation and address other benefits and services that must be reformed to better serve our veterans.

I thank the chairman of the committee – my chairman of my committee – the senator from Georgia for his leadership in this regard, and I’m particularly pleased that this legislation includes legislation that I along with Senator Blumenthal have diligently worked for over the last several years – and its sponsored by over 48 of our Senate colleagues – the Toxic Exposure Research Act. This legislation takes a significant step toward researching the potential health effects from toxic exposures to veterans and their descendants. To send a strong message to our veterans, we must pass this legislation. 

I often meet at the World War II Memorial with veterans, for the memorial that was built in their honor on the National Mall. The message I always convey is one that I shared with my Dad upon his first visit – excuse me, upon my first visit – to the memorial. I stepped away and called my dad at home in Plainville, Kansas, and I said: “Dad, I should have said this a long time ago, but I thank you for your service, I respect you and I love you.”

And that we do again today on this significant day in our nation’s history with the passage of veterans’ legislation, the passage of NDAA, we certainly can tell our servicemen and women, and our veterans, those who serve our country so diligently and so faithfully that we thank you for your service, we respect you and we love you.  

Madam President, I yield the floor.