The retiring chairman of the House Armed Services Committee delivered a scathing rebuke of administration defense policy in his farewell speech on the floor yesterday, arguing that the troops’ sacrifice is repaid with failing equipment and pay cuts.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), whose 22 years in Congress have included famous tangles with the White House over weak policy, bid goodbye to colleagues as the defense reauthorization bill passed 300-119.
McKeon said he hopes a bill can come to the floor next year that ends defense sequestration. “When that solution comes, it will be a tough vote on both sides,” he said. “For some of my colleagues, it might be a fatal vote. I pray that you will hold this thought in your hearts when that vote comes: Remember the great sacrifice our troops are making around the world.”
“Right now, they are walking patrol in the mountains of Afghanistan. They are at sea within missile range of Iran. They are flying wingtip-to-wingtip against Russia bombers over the North Sea. They are nose to nose with the North Koreans. They are sweating in the equatorial heat of Africa, fighting a horrible disease. They are standing on the sand of Iraq, risking everything against a brutal enemy. They take those risks, they make those sacrifices, because of you. They do it for you. They do it for us. For their families, for their flag. For our freedom,” McKeon continued.
“And how we have repaid them? With equipment that is falling apart. By laying them off while they’re off in war zones. By docking their pay and their medical benefits. By throwing them out of the service and onto a broken economy.”
The congressman quoted Lord Byron: “They never fail, who die in a great cause.”
“I’ve met our forces on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, dirty and sweaty from fighting. I’ve watched too many families spend long months waiting for the deployed to come home. I’ve seen too many heroes put into the ground. They never failed us. Not once,” he said. “So shame on us, if we’re unwilling to pay back the debt we owe them. Shame on all of us, from the White House down, if we cannot make far less a sacrifice on their behalf.”
McKeon said it will fall on the 114th Congress and President Obama “to make these injustices right.”
“So please, show our troops the respect they deserve. Give them the tools they need. Help keep them safe. Honor their service, with your service. I know you will do the right thing.”
Befitting a McKeon, he left the chamber with an old Irish blessing.
“May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand,” the chairman said. “To this great body, and to our troops – wherever you may be — may God bless you and keep you, and may God bless America.”