Arkansas Congressional delegation talks Syria, Russia, defense spending
Foreign policy issues as well as a continuing resolution to fund the government through mid-December were the main topics of discussion this week in the nation’s capital, with Arkansas lawmakers discussing the issues.
The following is a breakdown of the week that was in the nation’s capital:
News this week of Russian forces bombing anti-Syrian rebels brought a stinging rebuke from the state’s junior senator. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the issue revealed Russia’s true intention.
“Putin’s defense of the Butcher of Damascus has begun. This is not an offensive to defeat ISIS, but a naked effort by one dictator to protect another and crush moderate Syrian opposition forces. Putin has this opening because of the absence of any U.S. strategy in Syria. The U.S. must reject Russia’s interference and rally our partners to do the same,” Cotton said.
Meanwhile, the House voted Thursday to approve a bill to support victims of Iranian terrorist attacks. The 251-173 vote on H.R. 3457 drew the support of all four members of the House delegation. U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, who backed the legislation, said the bill was not part of the nuclear deal approved by the United States and Iran earlier this year.
“This is another example where Barack Obama, the president, has made a critical negotiating error,” Hill said. “He has let down the victims and let down the United States policy by not insisting on these adjudicated claims being part of these negotiations.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said the bill will make the Iranians pay for any actions they have committed.
“The Iran Nuclear Deal rewards a country that has engaged in acts of terrorism,” Westerman said. “This bill makes sure Iran is held accountable for its actions and prevents the president from lifting sanctions until the Iranian regime has paid each victim’s family damages owed.”
‘CR’ CLEARS CONGRESS
This week, both the House and Senate approved bills that will fund government operations through Dec. 11. The House voted Wednesday 277-151 on HR 719, with Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers voting yes and Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, French Hill, R-Little Rock and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs voting no.
In statements Wednesday, Crawford and Westerman said the bill fell short of what is needed.
“A Continuing Resolution simply authorizes our already budget-busting spending levels without even allowing law-makers the discretion to legislate how we spend our very limited resources,” Crawford said. “Without a fiscally responsible annual appropriations process, Congress is denied its clear Constitutional authority to choose how tax dollars are spent, and that includes the authority to deny spending for an organization currently under investigation for illegally trafficking fetal tissue, Planned Parenthood.”
“My vote against the continuing resolution was a vote against the status quo,” Westerman said. “My goal as a Representative in the U.S. Congress is to restore fiscal responsibility by stopping deficit spending and reducing our debt. The first step in doing this is to pass appropriations bills in regular order and then work with the Senate to resolve differences. We should not be running our government with last minute votes before deadlines and especially when these bills are thrown together by the Senate that refuses take up legislation passed in regular order by the House. This has happened time and again. It is no way to run our government.”
The Senate voted 78-20 Wednesday to approve a similar version of the bill. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark. and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., both voted no.
DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL CLEARS HOUSE
On Thursday, the House also approved by a 270-156 vote, the conference report for the Defense Authorization Bill. All four Arkansas Representatives voted for the bill, which would fund military operations for Fiscal Year 2016. The new federal fiscal year started Thursday (Oct. 1).
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said the bill would meet objectives and provide key needs with funding.
“Maintaining the strongest military force in the world is a top priority of this Congress. Today, I was proud to join my colleagues in authorizing continued funding of our military. The FY 2016 NDAA will increase accountability for taxpayer dollars being spent on training forces in Syria, provide funding to enhance our cyber warfare capabilities, and give crucial funding to assist the Ukrainian military. This bill also authorizes additional funds to be used for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account and accelerates the Blackhawk helicopter modernization plan, which is critical to our Army National Guard Aviation Units,” Hill said.
“I am particularly pleased with the NDAA’s reauthorization of the prohibitions against transferring of Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) detainees to the United States. Last week, I visited GTMO and saw firsthand this safe and secure facility that holds the world’s most notorious agents of terror, and we must ensure its utilization in our ongoing fight against terrorism.
However, Hill said he was disappointed an amendment to do a business case analysis on an Air Force decision to keep 10 C-130J aircraft at Keesler Air Force base in Mississippi was not included in the overall bill.
“One year ago Air Force officials highlighted the importance of Little Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB) and the cost savings and efficiencies that would be realized by relocating these aircraft to LRAFB, which is one of the most technologically advanced and well-run military installations in the entire country and is a center of excellence for our global airlift operations. Although I disagree with this decision, I will continue my work to ensure that LRAFB maintains its airlift capabilities, which are so essential to our entire military,” Hill said.