National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) amendment to express the sense of Congress on the length of time of and between deployments for members of the armed services/On approving the amendment
senate Roll Call 244 Jul 11, 2007
This vote was on a nonbinding measure that would have outlined Congress' position on the length of time between deployments for military service personnel, as well as the lengths of the deployments themselves. Unlike two previous measures offered by Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that the Senate voted down (see Roll Call 241 and 243), this provision would not have had the force of law.
This sense of Congress, as it is known, would have expressed that active-duty troops should not be "overutilized," in the words of its sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and not be deployed for longer than 15 months.
Democrats charged that this vote simply provided political cover for Republicans without doing anything for the troops. Republicans maintained that they were setting "goals" for the military without stepping outside the Senate's constitutional authority.
"We are trying to make sure that our reserve forces are not deployed in theater and activated for more than one year out of six. These are goals that will make our military stronger," Graham said.
Binding language previously rejected by the Senate would have required the military to ensure that troops were not deployed for more than a year at a time. Separate language also rejected by the Senate would have required that active-duty troops and reservists spend as much time at home or off active-duty as they spend deployed or on active-duty, respectively.
The issue was prompted by repeated extensions of active-duty troops' deployments and the prolonged call-up of reservists, which many critics have called a "backdoor draft." Both rejected amendments would have allowed the president to waive the requirement after he certified that the troops were needed for an "emergency."
This sense of Congress was a nonbinding version of those amendments, and it was rejected by Democrats as a ruse. Republicans asserted that allowing Congress to "micromanage" the military would be unconstitutional and impinge on the president's ability to wage war.
"Do we all find it uncomfortable and disheartening that the guard and reserve and active-duty forces have been stressed? Yes. That is why we are trying to increase the military, the Army and the Marine Corps by 90,000," Graham said. "The idea for Congress to step in at this point in time and say that soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, members of the military - that by congressional mandate they are going to be locked into X amount of time in theater, is not only an unwise use of the moment, it is a constitutional problem for the ages."
Webb countered that there were no constitutional issues, and that Congress had the right and responsibility to assert its authority on how the country's monies and personnel were being expended. He added that the sense of Congress amounted to a restatement of current policy.
"So there is no sense in anyone who wants to attempt to help the people who are being sent into harm's way again and again with some reasonable timelines to vote for this. It is simply a statement of existing policy. If you agree with existing policy and you want to vote for a sense of Congress, you may want to vote for this. I urge my colleagues not to," Webb concluded, calling it a "cover measure."
The majority of the Senate, including seven Republicans, agreed and voted against the nonbinding measure. Democrats were unanimous in their opposition. Thus, by a vote of 41 to 55, a resolution without the force of law that would have stated Congress' position that military service personnel should not be deployed for over 15 months at a time failed, and legislation authorizing Defense Department spending for fiscal 2008 went forward without the language.
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