Bipartisan military veterans: Congress needs to be serious on national security 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is one of the most consequential pieces of legislation that Congress passes each year. It authorizes new funding and policy initiatives for the Department of Defense (DOD) and defense-related activities, charting the course for our national security policy. This year’s NDAA, which the president signed last month, includes a host of important provisions like increasing pay for our servicemembers, enhancing U.S. deterrence initiatives in the Pacific, and supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia.  

While we are pleased that this bill has become law, this is not entirely a good news story. For the second year in a row, the Senate has failed to consider and pass its version of the NDAA, abdicating its responsibility, abandoning regular order, and circumventing a fair and transparent conference process with the House. 

This may sound like a D.C. Beltway problem, but the reality is that this has serious implications for our constituents back home, for servicemembers and their families, and for U.S. national security. For one, the Senate’s failure to do its job makes what is already an opaque process even more convoluted. Without a Senate-passed bill, members of the Senate and House are not appointed as conferees, leaving the bill to be negotiated exclusively by leadership and select staff behind closed doors.  

This procedure also manufactures an 11th-hour authorization for all funding and programs for our entire national security apparatus. It is irresponsible for Congress to wait until the last possible moment to provide for the common defense. It is one of our most basic responsibilities that we are directed to uphold in the first sentence of the Constitution. Our country faces immense challenges across the globe—from an ascendant China to a belligerent Russia to instability in the Middle East. By ensuring “regular order”—and passing the bill on time—we can put the DOD on a better footing to address these threats and provide greater certainty to our servicemembers and their families. 

As members of the House Armed Services Committee and Co-Chairs of the For Country Caucus, a bipartisan group of military veterans in Congress, we worked hard to build a balanced and comprehensive defense authorization package. We are glad many of the provisions we fought to secure reached the final bill: it will establish a Warfighter Brain Health Initiative to align traumatic brain injury policy and programs across the DOD, improve how small businesses navigate government contracting, and strengthen the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program so the next generation can learn the value of service. At the same time, however, this bill also omits bipartisan, bicameral provisions that we supported but did not have the chance to defend in conference. 

We’ll be passing on leadership of the For Country Caucus to other members in the 118th Congress–both known for their bipartisanship in Congress and service in uniform. We take pride in what we have been able to accomplish in the three short years since the inception of the caucus. We’re particularly proud that soon Gold Star Families, veterans, and citizens from across the country will be able to come together to visit the Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall. We fought to secure this provision in the Fiscal Year 2022 NDAA and will remain engaged in its implementation now that it has become law.  

Sixteen members of the For Country Caucus sit on the House Armed Services Committee, and that number may grow next year. This bipartisan group of military veterans will remain focused on productivity and common-sense legislating as part of a transparent process. We urge the Senate to do the same. We owe it to our troops, to their families, and to Americans around the globe who expect Congress to do its job and help keep our nation safe.  

Jared Golden and Don Bacon are co-chairs of the For Country Caucus. 

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