Party Leaders Give Accusatory Introductory Remarks After 7 Week Recess

The Republican and Democratic party leaders gave critical speeches of their rivals across the aisle this afternoon, in their first day back since the summer recess began in July. The two politicians painted pictures of discord caused by the other side around the flashpoints of Zika funding, which will come to a vote today, defense funding, and partisan intransigence.

McConnell

The Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened by emphasizing how much needs to get done, and underlined the twin issues of Zika and National Security funding at the top of his list of priorities.

He criticized Democrats in the chamber for filibustering those appropriations. Mr. McConnell said that there is “no good explanation for blocking these important funding bills.”

He praised the work of the Centers for Disease Control and reported that they had informed him of reduced Zika transmission in areas sprayed to exterminate mosquitoes.

Mr. McConnell also noted what he called increased threats from North Korea, and continued attacks by the Islamic State worldwide.

“I hope our colleagues will join us now to end senseless filibusters,” he finished.

Reid

Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority leader, criticized the long summer break. He called the 7 week pause the longest he had seen in sixty years.

“The Senate has a mountain of work to do and no time to do it,” Mr. Reid charged.

He countered Mr. McConnell’s argument that the Democrats bear responsibility for blocking Zika funding.

“We offered compromise to Republicans but they said no to compromise,” he claimed.

He called Zika a growing threat and accused Senate Republicans of stalling while the virus spread, and recited the list of cases in US states and territories. 17,000 cases have been reported, 1,600 of which are pregnant women.

He charged that the Zika bill House Republicans sent back is impossible to pass because of sections in it Democrats find unacceptable. One such section are the cuts to the Veterans Administration, part of funding offsets demanded by the House.  A provision allowing the continued flying of the Confederate flag over military installations was called “unacceptable” by the minority leader.

Along with objections to the makeup of the funding bill, Mr. Reid also complained about reports that Republicans may seek to pass continuing resolutions to fund the government through the next year.

He called the use of a continuing resolution “a permission slip to Congress not to do its jobs next year.”

Mr. Reid cited the need for immediate action on campaign finance reform, college tuition reform, gun control actions, and the continued refusal of the Senate to hold meetings with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

“We have a logjam of important legislation that [the majority leader] created,” said Mr. Reid.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

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Senate Passes National Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017

Around noon today, the Senate passed the National Defense Appropriations Act(S. 2943) by a vote of 85-13. Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid was among the Nays.

Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-AZ, expressed pleasure at the passage of the bill and commended the bipartisanship displayed throughout the legislative process. He did not, however, hide his disappointment with the exclusion from the bill of an amendment that would grant greater protection to foreign translators working for the military.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, also made clear his dismay at the defeated amendment.

Senator McCain blamed intransigent Senators advocating for their own amendments for the translator amendment’s failure. Rapping the lectern in front of him, he declared that because of its absence from the bill, there are translators “being slaughtered right now.” Native translators who work with Americans in the Middle East can be seen as collaborators, and are often prime targets for the Taliban and other militant groups.

The legislation passed today is a broad and deep appropriations package. It meets the President’s budget request, and grants $602 billion dollars worth of funding for 2017.

Acquisitions reform is among its many goals, along with a 1.6% pay rise for all service members, and increased funding for counter terrorism goals such as the the defeat of the Islamic State.

Cyber warfare is elevated to a higher domain in the bill, part of a broader technology push spearheaded by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter as a part of his Force of the Future vision for the military.

This was the 54th consecutive year that the Senate has passed the NDAA.

by Marlon J Ettinger

Senator Coats Cites Marine One Boondoggle in 45th ‘Waste of the Week’ Report

Senator Daniel Coats(R-IN) gave his “Waste of the Week” report today. The topic was the $4.7 Billion spent on updating Marine One with nothing to show for the money spent. The helicopter is used by the president for short air trips, and transport to Air Force One.

He spoke of the impact of waste, fraud, & abuse has on the amount of discretionary budget available for proper spending, and linked that issue with what he characterized as “out-of-control” entitlement spending.

Part of the issue, said Coats, was an eagerness on the part of acquisitions programs, and also of defense contractors’ internal policies of “just getting things going.” That strategy is marked by the assumption that once a project is initiated and large sums of money spent, Congress will be reluctant to terminate it with nothing to show as a result.

The Defense Department’s Acquisitions arm has been on the GAO’s annual ‘High-Risk’ report for several years now.

While Coats did not mention the unchained spending risks associated with Cost-Plus contracts, Senator John McCain(R-AR), Chairman of the Armed Services committee talked of the procurement process’s  need for reformation earlier this week as a part of fiscal year 2017’s National Defense Authorization Act.