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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of passing the National Defense Authorization Act in order to authorize funding for critical military priorities, including those at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Thune noted that he is focused on making sure Ellsworth has the resources it needs to address school capacity and housing needs in order to accommodate military families who will move to South Dakota with the arrival of the B-21.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, one of the most important bills we take up every year is the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA – legislation authorizing funding for our military men and women and the defense of our country.
“The Senate Armed Services Committee passed this year’s bipartisan bill a month ago.
“And we have less than two months of floor time left in the fiscal year.
“Yet Senate Democrats’ focus this month is on a last-ditch effort to pass some version of their Build Back Better tax-and-spending spree in hopes, I have to assume, of eking out a few more votes in November.
“And apparently the NDAA will just have to wait.
“Mr. President, as it does every year, this year’s NDAA authorizes funding for critical military priorities.
“The fiscal year 2023 NDAA continues the modernization efforts begun several years ago in the wake of the 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission report, which warned that our nation’s readiness had eroded to the point where we might struggle to win a war against a major power like Russia or China.
“It authorizes funding to improve quality of life for our military members and their families – which is not only something we owe these men and women, who sacrifice so much for us, but is also essential for recruiting and retaining members of our all-volunteer force.
“It authorizes funding to enhance our nuclear deterrence – a key priority with continued nuclear threats from traditional powers like Russia and rogue states like Iran and North Korea.
“And it continues our strong support for Ukraine.
“Mr. President, Ukraine no longer dominates every front page.
“But for five months now, Ukraine has been fighting a heroic war against Russian aggression.
“And thanks to support from allies in Europe and from our own country, Ukraine is still holding out.
“In a war that many experts thought could see Kyiv fall within a matter of days, Ukraine is approaching day 150 of resisting Vladimir Putin’s Soviet-style aggression.
“In fact, Ukraine continues to strike painful blows against the Russian military, which has now turned to Iran for military support.
“Later today Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, will be addressing Congress.
“She and her husband have been a beacon for Ukrainians during this brutal war.
“And President Zelenskyy’s iron determination, his tireless leadership, and his unflagging commitment to his people have inspired all those who love freedom.
“Ukraine is in many ways standing up for the whole free world right now, sending the message that Russia’s unprovoked aggression will not be allowed to stand.
“And the least we and other free nations can do is ensure they have the resources they need to carry out their fight.
“Mr. President, Russia’s war against Ukraine reminds us that nations that value freedom and security must stand together.
“And Finland and Sweden are looking to stand with other free nations by joining the NATO alliance.
“Vladimir Putin has turned the historic positions of neutrality in Finland and Sweden into robust public support to join the alliance, and both of these countries will strengthen the capabilities and geostrategic position of NATO.
“Yesterday the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported the treaty concerning their accession to NATO, and I hope the Senate and administration will soon complete their respective roles and approve Finland and Sweden’s membership.
“Mr. President, one priority for me in every National Defense Authorization Act is ensuring that the men and women of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota have everything they need to successfully carry out their mission.
“Right now, my priority is ensuring that Ellsworth remains a responsive and lethal component of Global Strike Command, with the B-1 bomber leveraging the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and its Long Range Anti-Ship Missile derivative.
“And as we look to the future, I am working to ensure the base continues to receive full funding for the many equipment and support facilities that will be needed for the B-21 Raider mission at Ellsworth.
“I worked to ensure full funding for the first of these facilities in last year’s NDAA, including a low-observable coating restoration facility, a wash rack and maintenance hangar, an expanded flight simulator facility, and more.
“This year’s NDAA continues that work, with additional funding for the low-observable coating restoration facility, as well as funding for two additional construction projects – a weapons generation facility and a radio frequency facility – that will be needed to ensure Ellsworth is able to fully conduct the nuclear and stealth B-21 mission.
“I’ve had the privilege of visiting the B-21 production site in Palmdale, California, and while the program remains heavily classified, I can say that the six planes under production are impressive feats of American engineering, and that we’re honored that South Dakota will be the first state to host the mission.
“But it’s not just about the hardware and cutting-edge systems, Mr. President.
“Our greatest asset is our people, including the pilots, maintainers, and all the men and women who have answered the call to serve.
“That’s why I’m focused on ensuring that our men and women in uniform have not just the military support they need, but the support they need for their families.
“More military families will be moving into the Ellsworth area with the arrival of the B-21 mission – as many as 250 people per year, including 100 dependents – and I am committed to ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to provide ample facilities for these families.
“To that end, I worked to include in this year’s NDAA an extension of an authority for the secretary of defense to adjust basic allowance for housing rates if an installation is experiencing a sudden increase in the number of servicemembers assigned there.
“This will help ensure that families at Ellsworth and elsewhere will have the resources they need to secure appropriate accommodations.
“I’m also working to ensure that the Douglas School District is able to integrate and support Air Force members’ children and provide sufficient classroom space.
“This NDAA would provide $15 million in Impact Aid for schools experiencing force structure changes like the anticipated growth at Ellsworth with the arrival of the B-21 mission.
“I’m grateful to Senator Rounds for his assistance in getting this through the committee’s markup and to our state’s at-large representative, Congressman Johnson, for his work to get it included in the House-passed bill.
“This expanded program should be a good first step to help ensure that Douglas School District is able to expand to meet the needs of new Ellsworth families.
“Mr. President, the House of Representatives, to its credit, voted on its version of the National Defense Authorization Act the other day.
“But unfortunately the House legislation’s total funding authorization is lower than the Senate bill’s number.
“That’s a concern, not only because we have a lot of priorities to fund, but because inflation is currently cutting into the military’s spending power.
“Inflation affects American families and businesses, but it also has a serious effect on our nation’s security.
“As prices soar across the economy, the military is able to do less with the dollars it has.
“And that can affect troop readiness and the military’s ability to keep up with needed programs and purchases, from weapons to vehicles to aircraft and ships.
“It is essential that the final House and Senate bill include the Senate’s topline funding number.
“Mr. President, in his 1793 annual message to Congress, George Washington said, ‘There is a rank due to the United States among nations which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness. If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.’
“In other words, ‘peace through strength.’
“Those words hold true in every age.
“The surest method of securing peace is ensuring that we are prepared for war.
“As Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine reminds us, there will always be nations who threaten peace and freedom.
“And the surest way to prevent these powers from destroying freedom is to ensure that we present a powerful threat of our own – a credible deterrent that stops these nations (and other bad actors) from wanting to tangle with us.
“There is no more certain way to invite war than to be unprepared to meet the bullies and dictators of this world.
“The National Defense Authorization Act is one of the most essential pieces of legislation we take up each year because it helps ensure that our nation is equipped to defend itself and deter aggression.
“I hope the Democratic leadership will consider deferring its tax-and-spending plans to take up this important national security legislation in the near future.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”