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Commentary

Rubio: D.C. dysfunction hurting military, veterans

Published:   |   Updated: December 6, 2013 at 10:59 AM

When the Senate reconvenes next week, its dysfunction will again be on display as it considers the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), major legislation that spells out our priorities for most national security and military matters.

Given the complexity of our military and the myriad security challenges we face, this should be an opportunity to have robust debates on a wide range of issues. In the past, this has normally been the case, but there is nothing normal about today's dysfunctional Senate.

In this case, the Senate's Democratic majority leadership is drastically limiting debate and amendment opportunities on the NDAA, except for a few hand-picked issues. In the real world, this means that many worthy ideas with bipartisan — in some cases almost universal — support won't ever see the light of day.

For example, I've joined one Democratic colleague, Jon Tester from Montana, in an effort to raise the salaries of active duty military personnel by 1.8 percent. In its current form, the NDAA includes President Obama's original budget request for a 1.0 percent increase — even though a 2004 law requires that this year's increase be 1.8 percent. During this time of record debt, we believe doing right by our service members, their families and existing law is our duty to them; therefore, we've offered a spending offset that prioritizes this pay increase.

Unfortunately, even with broad bipartisan support, the Senate's Democratic leadership has decided to block any consideration of this measure, short changing our troops in the process.

Another example of how Washington's dysfunction stands in the way of helping our military and veterans is evident in a measure I'm pursuing with Elizabeth Warren, one of my Democratic colleagues from Massachusetts.

We've proposed stronger financial protections for veterans being targeted by scams in the Department of Veterans Administration's Aid and Assistance Benefit, which helps pay for assisted living or in-home personal care for eligible veterans. Our legislation directs the VA to work with other federal agencies and states to crack down on scam artists who are exploiting our elderly veterans by charging unnecessary fees for this benefit and sometimes taking control of veterans' assets.

In both of these cases, I've found common cause with Democratic colleagues I often disagree with: doing right by our military and veterans. And in both of these cases, we've seen how the inexplicable and inexcusable behavior of the politicians who run the Senate stands in the way of honoring and supporting those who serve in uniform.

These are just two examples of measures being blocked. There are many more that I and other colleagues have offered, including efforts affecting sanctions on Iran for its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, U.S. aid to Egypt, the future of Guantanamo Bay's terrorist detention facility, and the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons, among many other important areas.

Whether simple and bipartisan, or more complex and contentious, these measures are proof that the Senate's Democratic leadership doesn't discriminate when it comes to silencing debate and ideas. Our nation deserves better than this and, without question, the men and women of our military deserve more.

As we continue to deploy troops overseas to fight terrorism, respond to disasters and defend our interests, we have a duty to take care of them and their families and ensure that they can live safe and dignified post-military lives.

We also have a responsibility to clearly define our military's priorities for the coming years.

On both fronts, the Senate's Democratic leadership should reverse the dysfunctional business-as-usual approach that currently stands in the way of not only charting the right course for our nation, but of even having a debate on what that course should be.

 

Marco Rubio, R-Miami, is a U.S. senator.

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