National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) amendment to limit the length of deployment of active-duty troops and reservists/On the amendment
senate Roll Call 243 Jul 11, 2007
This vote was on an amendment to legislation authorizing spending by the Defense Department for fiscal 2008 that would have required the military to limit the length of time troops could be deployed to 12 months at a time. It was the second amendment offered by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) regarding troop deployment. The first would have required that armed forces personnel receive as much time at home as they spend deployed (see Roll Call 241).
Cosponsored by Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.), Olympia Snowe (D-Maine) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the amendment would have mandated that a unit of the Army, including the National Guard and the reserves, could not be deployed for more than 12 consecutive months, and that a unit of the Marine Corps, including the reserve, could not be deployed for more than seven straight months. The language included an exemption for "forces needed to maintain continuity of mission and situational awareness between rotations," in Hagel's words. The provision also would allow the president to waive the requirement in times of national emergency.
"The war in Iraq has pushed the U.S. Army to the breaking point," Hagel said. "When we deploy our military, we have an obligation to ensure that our troops are rested, ready, prepared, fully trained, and fully equipped. Today's armed forces are being deployed repeatedly for increasing periods of time. This is quickly wearing down the troops and their families, impacting the mental and physical health of our troops."
Hagel added that the extended deployments are negatively affecting the recruiting and retention rates of the military. Even with large cash bonus incentives (over $1 billion last year alone), for the second month in a row the "Army has failed to recruit the number of new soldiers needed to fill the ranks."
Many Republicans claimed Hagel's proposal was unconstitutional because it would allow Congress to interfere in military decisions, which they believed to be the president's purview. Critics such as Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) suggested instead that his colleagues vote for a nonbinding resolution that expressed the sense of the Senate that ensuring that deployments don't extend past 15 months as "a goal rather than an absolute fixed requirement." (See Roll Call 244.)
"By mandating a certain policy for deployment time or dwell time, the Congress is engaged in the most explicit micromanaging of what is obviously a function for the commander in chief and military commanders to perform," Kyl said. "This is not something Members of Congress are knowledgeable about or would have the ability to dictate in any responsible fashion."
Webb responded to questions about the constitutionality by pointing to Article I, section 8, which he asserted, "says the Congress has the power to make rules for government and regulation of the land and naval forces, and we have done so many times in the past."
Webb continued, "Some say this is meddling in the president's war-making authority. To the contrary, the Congress has the power and the duty to place proper restraints on executive authority, particularly when it comes to the wellbeing of our troops. We are saying: After 4 years of a ground occupation in Iraq, we have a responsibility to get some stability into the operational tempo."
Although 52 Senators voted for the amendment, it was not sufficient for passage because of an agreement between Republicans and Democrats prior to the vote that passage would require a three-fifths majority (normally 60 votes). That agreement was the result of Republican threats to filibuster the amendment, a parliamentary maneuver that prevents the Senate from moving forward with legislation and requires 60 votes to overcome. The parliamentary move to require a 60-vote majority for passage was handled by unanimous consent.
Three Republicans voted for the amendment, and no Democrats opposed it. (Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, voted "no.") Thus, by a final vote of 52 to 42, an amendment that would have required the military to restrict deployment of Army units to a year or less and Marine Corps units to less than seven months failed to achieve the three-fifths majority required for passage, and legislation authorizing Defense Department spending for fiscal 2008 went forward without the requirement.
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