(Senate - June 24, 2019)

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[Pages S4197-S4202]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Under the previous order, the 
Senate will resume consideration of the motion to proceed to S. 1790, 
which the clerk will report.
  The senior assistant legislative clerk read as follows:

       Motion to proceed to the consideration of S. 1790, a bill 
     to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2020 for military 
     activities of the Department of Defense, for military 
     construction, and for defense activities of the Department of 
     Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such 
     fiscal year, and for other purposes.

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas.
  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, in virtually every aspect of our lives, 
technology and innovation have made jobs simpler and made us much more 
efficient. You can easily track your appointments, hail a ride, or even 
change the temperature of your house from your smartphone. You can 
broaden the reach of your small business, use fundraising platforms to 
raise money for a cause you care about, and easily stay connected with 
friends and family around the globe. But for all the ways these 
innovations have made our daily life easier, they have also created an 
array of security challenges.
  We are all familiar with the high-profile hacking targeting customer 
financial data and personal information. To be sure, it is scary, but 
nowhere is the threat of this hyperinnovation more terrifying than on 
the national security front.
  The challenges we confront today look different from those 100, 50, 
or even 5 years ago. We are seeing new technologies used in the 
battlefield, like drones, and the race to develop next-generation 
hypersonic missiles. Top military officials, including ADM Gary 
Roughead, cochair of the Commission on National Defense Strategy, have 
voiced their concerns about our ability as a nation to confront these 
rapidly evolving threats. Admiral Roughead told Congress: ``We are 
operating a force today that was last modernized in the 1980s.''
  That is unacceptable. We cannot send our men and women in uniform 
into battle to defend our freedom at a disadvantage or allow these 
rapidly changing threats to outpace our ability to respond. Our 
military should never be fighting next-generation wars with last-
generation weapons and equipment.
  Of course, the goal is not to have to fight any wars but to maintain 
the peace through a superior military over any of our potential 
adversaries. We must continue to invest in military modernization, 
which is why we need to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, 
the bill that is presently before the Senate.
  This bill invests in cutting-edge technology to protect our 
military's combat advantage, including to promote 5G networks, the 
hypersonic weapons that we need to develop to maintain parity--at 
least, with our adversaries--and artificial intelligence.

[[Page S4198]]

  It also invests in nuclear weapons modernization, something I spoke 
about on the floor just this last week. As our adversaries continue to 
develop the use of their nuclear arsenal, maintaining a safe and strong 
nuclear deterrent is the key to preventing nuclear war and keeping our 
adversaries in check.
  This year's Defense authorization bill also takes major steps to 
improve the quality of life for our troops and their families. 
America's 2.1 million servicemembers have made a commitment that few 
are willing to make and have joined the ranks of America's heroes who 
have defended our great country throughout our history.
  This bill will provide a modest 3.1 percent pay raise for our 
troops--the largest increase in a decade. I hope it will also include a 
provision that I have introduced to support our servicemembers during 
life after the military.
  Occasionally, when veterans fall on hard times, their disability 
benefits can be counted as income in bankruptcy court. That is not the 
case for their civilian counterparts with their Social Security 
disability, and it is unacceptable to me that a civilian with 
disability benefits would get better treatment in bankruptcy court than 
a veteran. To fix this issue, I have introduced a bill with Senator 
Baldwin from Wisconsin, called the Honoring American Veterans in 
Extreme Need Act, or the HAVEN Act. This bill would shield VA and 
Department of Defense disability benefits in the same way that Social 
Security disability is currently exempted.
  Veterans should not be penalized fo receiving the disability 
compensation they have earned, and I hope this provision will be 
included in the Defense authorization bill, which we should soon be 
able to vote on.

  Passing this bill is not only important to the safety of our Nation, 
but it is important for global security as well. It supports programs 
and policies that will strengthen existing alliances and promote new 
  I am hopeful that the final version of this bill will include a 
provision I have introduced to enhance our relationship with India. In 
2016 the United States designated India as a major defense partner, 
which seeks to elevate our defense partnership with India to the same 
level as that of our closest allies.
  Since then, we have taken a number of steps to strengthen our defense 
relationship, such as establishing ministerial dialogue, increasing 
arms sales to India, and the first U.S.-India tri-service exercise 
later this year.
  As cochair of the Senate India Caucus, I continue to advocate for 
policies that strengthen our ties with India, both militarily and 
otherwise. I introduced legislation that requires the Secretary of 
Defense to submit a report to Congress on U.S.-India defense 
cooperation in the Western Indian Ocean within 180 days of enactment. 
This will allow us to get a clearer picture of current military 
activities and will enable the Secretary to enter into military 
cooperation agreements and conduct regular joint military training and 
operations with India in the Western Indian Ocean.
  Including this provision in the National Defense Authorization Act 
would be a major step to bolster U.S.-India ties and strengthen our 
alliance. It is only fitting for the world's oldest democracy and the 
world's largest democracy to continue to work more and more closely 
  As we work to counter increasingly sophisticated adversaries around 
the world, passing the Defense authorization bill this week could not 
be more important. This legislation is integral to ensuring that our 
military is resourced and trained and ready for action when called 
  That is why for more than 50 years, Congress has made passing the 
Defense authorization bill an annual priority. Funding our men and 
women in uniform who are fighting and facing unprecedented threats 
around the world on our behalf is a no-brainer. I look forward to 
voting to support the NDAA later this week, and I want to thank 
Chairman Inhofe and the ranking member, Senator Reed, for working to 
get this bill passed with broad bipartisan support, as well as thank 
the Senate Armed Services Committee for working to get this bill to 
this point and bringing it to the floor in a broad, bipartisan way.
  This bill provides our military men and women the resources and 
equipment they need to defend our country and later transition back 
into civilian life. It restores our combat advantage by promoting 
military modernization. It strengthens and builds alliances around the 
globe. Above all, it sends a message to the entire world that our 
country is and will remain the global military leader.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so 

                   Recognition of the Minority Leader

  The Democratic leader is recognized.

                        Victim Compensation Fund

  Mr. SCHUMER. Mr. President, tomorrow my friend John Feal and fellow 
survivors who were first responders on September 11 will visit with 
Leader McConnell to press for the passage of legislation to fix the 
shortfall of the Victim Compensation Fund. This is the fund that awards 
compensation to the families of 9/11 first responders who died from 9/
11-related illnesses, often cancers and fatal respiratory illnesses.
  It makes me sick to my stomach that every time we have this debate, 
these suffering first responders, many in wheelchairs, are forced to 
travel to Washington to shame politicians into supporting their 
  I am sick of all of these delays; I am tired of temporary 
reauthorizations; and I have had enough of watching our first 
responders endure the indignity of waiting for a last-minute, must-pass 
bill to hide their issue in so Members will not vote against it. It 
shouldn't be this way, and it shouldn't be this hard to pass aid for 
our 9/11 responders and everyone who worked on the pile in the weeks 
and months thereafter.
  Who has been standing in the way? At the top of the list, 
unfortunately, is my colleague the Republican leader. Leader McConnell 
has to do the right thing here. He is meeting with these brave 
responders, and that is a good thing, but it is not enough. At the end 
of the meeting, he should promise them, and promise all of us, that he 
will put the Victim Compensation Fund fix on the floor as soon as it 
passes the House as a stand-alone bill--no more delays for these brave 
people, no more people like Ray Fifer, my dear friend who passed away, 
having to come to Washington five or six times begging and pleading, 
not for himself--he knew the cancer was fatal for him--but for his 
colleagues and allies. Let's do the right thing here.
  Let's do the right thing, Leader McConnell.


  Mr. President, on another matter, amid escalating tensions with Iran, 
the President today announced a new round of sanctions. It remains 
unclear what, if any, strategy this latest round of sanctions fits into 
and whether this latest round of sanctions will compel Iran's leaders 
to alter their current course. I worry that the President continues 
down a path of escalation.
  Besides a small group of hawkish advisers and Republican cheerleaders 
in Congress, nobody wants a war with Iran. The American people are 
weary of endless wars in the Middle East, the trillions of dollars 
wasted, the thousands of American lives lost. Americans want the money 
spent here at home on things like our crumbling infrastructure. 
Americans don't want to see their sons and daughters dying in a war 
that seems to go on forever without a conclusion.
  While I am not convinced the President is eager to go to war, I am 
very concerned that he could bumble us into war. His strategy seems 
erratic, changing from day to day and week to week. It seems opaque. 
There is no real discussion outside of his own little clique of 
advisers, and it seems to sometimes contradict itself.
  Exchanges of aggression can escalate and cascade quickly in the 
Middle East; provocations can spin out of control. The President's lack 
of a steady hand, lack of transparency, and, above all, his lack of 
strategy make the danger of escalation even more distinct and 

[[Page S4199]]

  It is also worrisome that John Bolton and Secretary Pompeo, the 
advocates for the conflict, appear to be leading the charge while there 
is no confirmed Secretary of Defense to pull back the reins, and it is 
interesting that it seems to be the Department of Defense that are the 
reins on the President. They know the limits of what we can do without 
escalation and the kind of endless war that our soldiers and our 
military leaders have always fought for this country, no matter what 
the consequences.
  So let me be clear: If the President is going to engage the United 
States in another war in the Middle East, he is going to have to 
convince the American people, and he is going to have to come to 
Congress for authorization. One of the best ways to avoid bumbling into 
a war is to have a robust, open debate and for Congress to have some 
say. We have learned that lesson in the run up to Iraq.
  Democrats have an amendment to the NDAA led by Senators Udall, 
Merkley, Murphy, and Kaine that would prohibit any funds authorized by 
the NDAA to be used to conduct hostilities against the Government of 
Iran. It makes imminent sense to consider this amendment on our annual 
defense bill. It is germane; it is timely.
  Considering the gravity of the situation with Iran, Democrats believe 
the full Senate should be present to vote on the Udall amendment. 
Leader McConnell is no doubt aware that several Members of this body 
will be absent this week for the Democratic Presidential debates. We 
should wait to have the vote until the full body is present. There is 
no rush to complete the NDAA. We have passed it very frequently later 
in the year with no harmful consequences to our military.
  We should have the vote on the Udall amendment, which is an urgency, 
before we bumble into war, and it should occur when every Senator is 
able to cast their vote. Last week, the Republican leader promised the 
Senate would hold an open amendment process on the NDAA. We have 
critical national security issues to debate, including Iran, including 
election security.
  Will the Republican leader keep his word and allow this debate to go 
forward? For much of this year, Leader McConnell, unfortunately, and 
now becoming known from one end of America to the another, has turned 
the Senate into a legislative graveyard, where we hardly ever vote on 
the prevailing issue of the day.
  Will the majority leader let the Senate have this important vote? Or 
is this another issue, another debate, the ability to fund a war that 
will be buried in his legislative graveyard?
  I hope he will not continue his shameful record of ducking the issues 
of the day when it comes to something as important as Congress's role 
in the matter of war and peace.

                            Border Security

  Finally, Mr. President, on the border, after a week of making the 
chilling, nasty, obnoxious threats about mass arrests and deportation 
of millions of immigrants, President Trump backed off on Sunday and 
demanded concessions from Democrats in exchange.
  In doing so, the President reminded the American people that he might 
be incapable of having a rational discussion about challenges at the 
border. Look at the things he has gone through--tariffs, closed the 
border--issue after issue, he makes threats, then backs off because 
none of them make any sense, none of them have been thought through.
  The President seems far more comfortable terrorizing immigrant 
families than actually coming up with real solutions. I mean, my God, 
to threaten separating children from their parents as a bargaining chip 
is the very definition of callousness. That is something that the vast 
majority of Americans would abhor, and he goes right ahead and does it.

  Unfortunately, however, this is typical of the President's approach 
to the border. For 2 years, the President has said he wants to fix the 
problems at the border, but just about every action he has taken has 
made things worse. He shut down the government in a failed attempt to 
fund an ineffective wall. He threatened to close the border entirely 
until the business community rebelled and said it would really hurt our 
economy and our workers. He threatened destructive tariffs with Mexico, 
and he has cut off security assistance to Central American countries 
that help curb the violence and lawlessness that contributes to the 
flow of migrants in the first place.
  His administration has separated children from their parents, kept 
them in cages, let them suffer in horrible conditions in for-profit 
detention centers that are little better than modern internment camps.
  These are not the actions of an administration that is trying to 
solve a problem. It seems the President is incapable of saying it is a 
real problem--he thinks it is--and people agree that we have to do 
something at the border. We all do.
  But instead of actually getting experts in and solving the problem, 
he is emotional, appeals to the dark side of human nature, and then is 
totally inconsistent and is on to doing the next thing. Any objective 
observer would say the President doesn't want to solve this problem.
  He is, rather, trying to exploit it for what he thinks will be his 
political benefit, although it sure didn't work in the month before the 
2018 election. To exploit an issue like this because he thinks it will 
benefit him politically, even if it means mistreating children and 
striking fear into the hearts of millions of people living in the U.S., 
that is disgraceful.
  The thing is we can have a rational conversation about this. This 
week, the Senate will consider a bipartisan agreement on supplemental 
appropriations for the border. That is a good thing. I salute Senator 
Shelby, a Republican, and Senator Leahy, a Democrat, who are coming 
together on a proposal that got 30 of the 31 votes on the 
Appropriations Committee. It shows that we can be rational and 
compromise and get something done on the border, even if it does not 
meet everybody's needs 100 percent of the way.
  Beyond that, we Democrats continue to propose commonsense changes 
that would address what is happening at the border to deal with the 
root causes of migration. Doesn't it make sense to tell these people 
from Nicaragua and El Salvador they can claim asylum in their home 
countries and not go through the 1,000-mile trek--often expensive 
because they have to pay coyotes to cross the north border of Mexico 
and with the United States. Of course, it does.
  Doesn't it make sense to have more immigration judges to reduce the 
backlog in cases? And doesn't it make sense to provide security 
assistance and help to those three Central American countries to combat 
the scourge of drug cartels, violent gangs, and lawlessness that has 
pushed migrants to go north because they don't want their child 
murdered and raped?
  Both parties can support these policies. President Trump can support 
these policies, but so far, the President has shown a shameful lack of 
willingness to engage with the real problems at the border, preferring 
demagoguery and fear-mongering to progress.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. MANCHIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Ernst). Without objection, it is so 

                          American Miners Act

  Mr. MANCHIN. Madam President, I rise today to call for immediate 
action on the American Miners Act. We have an obligation to the coal 
miners across America who served our Nation by providing us with energy 
through our greatest advancements. They deserve to know that the 
pensions they rightfully worked for will be funded fully. They deserve 
to have acceptable healthcare, which was guaranteed to them, and they 
paid for it.
  As the Senate fails to act, we continue to put our retired miners' 
healthcare and pension benefits in jeopardy yet again. I have been 
working with everyone from every angle in order to prevent our miners 
from losing their healthcare and retirement benefits, but, once again, 
they are facing a deadline that puts their whole livelihood at risk.
  This has been a long fight, and it is far from over. Everyone--and I 

[[Page S4200]]

everyone--who has joined me in this journey understands that they are 
fighting for the working people, and that is what we were sent here to 
do. These retired miners are walking the halls and fighting for what is 
rightfully theirs. I am doing this for them. I promised them that this 
body will not abandon them. I refuse to let them down.
  The 1974 pension plan will be insolvent by 2022 if we do not act now. 
Miners who receive their healthcare through companies that went 
bankrupt in 2018 are at risk of losing their coverage in the coming 
months if we fail to act soon. Unlike many other public-private pension 
plans, the 1974 pension plan was well managed and 94 percent funded 
prior to the crash of 2008. However, the 2008 crash hit at a time when 
the plan had its highest payment obligations to the retirees. If the 
plan becomes insolvent, these beneficiaries will face benefit cuts and 
the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will assume billions of 
dollars in liabilities.
  To address these issues, the American Miners Act would shore up the 
1974 pension plan, which is headed for insolvency due to coal company 
bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis. It would ensure that the 
miners who are at risk due to the 2018 coal company bankruptcies will 
not lose their healthcare. It would extend the Black Lung Disability 
Trust Fund tax at $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and 55 cents 
per ton of surface-mined coal for 10 years.
  West Virginia has more retired miners than any other State. More than 
27,000 retirees live in West Virginia alone. Most of those who are 
receiving these pensions are widows. The pensions for these widows--
basically, it is a family affair when someone in the family mines--on 
average is less than $600 per month--less than $600. They have worked 
for it. Their husbands worked for it. They have been counting on it. 
Basically, it is a lifeline for them. Because of the bankruptcies that 
have allowed companies to walk away from the legacy costs and leave 
them with nothing after they negotiated to not take home the pay to 
take care of this themselves, they are left in a very vulnerable 
position, which we should never have let happen.
  I have a letter from a retired coal miner to read to you today. I 
think it puts everything in perspective. This is Delbert from West 
Virginia, who was a miner for 35 years. He said:

       To the members of the Senate and House: Months ago, I 
     walked the corridors of Washington, D.C., asking many members 
     of Congress for help. I spoke with Mitch McConnell and bled 
     my heart out to him, how this was not only the right thing to 
     do but it was also a matter of life and death to many 
     thousands of coal miners.
       If this letter is read on the Senate and House floors, I 
     plead with each and every one of you to search your hearts 
     and souls today. Close your eyes and imagine giving your 
     youth and your entire working life to the coal industry, and 
     the only promise you were given was a small retirement check 
     and medical insurance. I know a favorable ruling for these 
     miners will cost the taxpayers nothing. It will not lead to 
     an increase in the deficit. I realize all we are asking 
     for is the interest earned off the unused reclamation 
     fund. Most coal companies are even on board with this.
       These miners have black lung. Many have to use oxygen 24 
     hours a day. Many have to use wheelchairs, walkers, and 
     canes. Their bodies are broken. Please don't break their 
     hearts, spirits, and souls also. Please save their lives and 
     pass this bill today.

  He is a proud veteran of the Vietnam War, a proud coal miner, and a 
proud American. Please don't say no to these deserving miners and 
  Let me give to you in a nutshell what they are asking for. In 1946, 
when Harry Truman was President, the Krug-Lewis Agreement was signed. 
That was John L. Lewis. The miners had to work for our industry and our 
economy to keep moving forward. Until that time they had no pension and 
no retirement. From that day forward it was promised to every miner 
that for every ton of coal that would be mined, there would be a 
certain set-aside on the price of coal that would go into their pension 
and retirement because it was an important industry and important 
commodity for the economy of our great country.
  After World War II, when the economy fell, miners were on strike, and 
they couldn't take care of themselves. This is how we got this bill, a 
guarantee from the Federal Government that they would be taken care of. 
It was not that the Federal taxpayer and government were going to pay 
for it. It was basically funded through the product they were mining 
and the products being sold, which gave them the resources to take care 
of their retirement and pensions.
  Somebody got this money when there was a bankruptcy, and it wasn't 
the people who worked for it. The bankruptcy laws in this country are 
so messed up that they don't give money to the human beings--they don't 
give it to the workers who basically worked for this and didn't take 
money home to their families because it was based in their retirement 
and pension plan, and then, all of a sudden, it is gone. All of the 
financial institutions line up first. It is not the working person at 
the front of the line. They are in the back of the line getting 
nothing. That is what we are trying to change here.
  We are trying to make sure that the people who have given everything 
they have for this great country--they are patriotic, they fought in 
the war, and they mined the coal that basically built America. Now we 
are about ready to let it go down.
  We had this bill fixed 3 years ago. I talked with Majority Leader 
McConnell about both the pension and the healthcare, but they separated 
it. We got the healthcare benefits for a certain portion of those 
people but not the pension plan. If there is one bankruptcy between now 
and 2022, this whole thing collapses immediately.
  On the other hand, the guaranteed funding that the Federal Government 
does pay for will be hit hard, and it could break down. So we have a 
crisis looming. We can avoid it or we can allow this to happen, as we 
do so many things around here.
  Why has this become a political fight? It shouldn't be. We have 
bipartisan support. We had almost every member on the Finance Committee 
from both parties--Democrats and Republicans--support it, but it never 
made it past the person who is responsible for putting it on the floor.
  I hope that all my colleagues will consider the widows and their $600 
pensions, which means the difference between having a life and 
basically worrying from day to day whether they are going to have food 
or medical care for whatever they need. These pensions are not 
extravagant. These pensions are a necessity and something that is 
needed. So I implore all of my colleagues to look at this very hard and 
try to get this on the NDAA. This is something we all should be 
fighting for and helping the people who fought for us, who gave us the 
quality of life we have and the great country we have.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Boozman). Without objection, it is so 

                   National Defense Authorization Act

  Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise today with my colleague from 
Alabama, Senator Jones, to urge our colleagues' support for our 
amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. It would repeal 
the Survivor Benefit Plan and dependency indemnity compensation offset, 
more commonly known as the military widow's tax. This unfair offset is 
currently preventing as many as 65,000 surviving military spouses--more 
than 260 of them in the State of Maine--from receiving the full 
benefits they deserve.
  The Defense Department's Survivor Benefit Plan, or SBP, is primarily 
an insurance benefit that military families purchase in their 
retirement. It provides cash benefits to a surviving spouse or other 
eligible recipients when a retiree passes away. On the other hand, the 
Department of Veterans Affairs dependency and indemnity compensation, 
known as DIC, is a monthly, tax-free payment to survivors and 
dependents of servicemembers who pass away from service-related 
  For example, if a military retiree pays premiums into the SBP 
insurance program, then his or her spouse ought to be able to receive 
those benefits when the retiree passes away. What we find instead, 
however, is that surviving

[[Page S4201]]

spouses receiving these insurance payments have a dollar-for-dollar 
offset for the separate payments they are receiving from the VA. In 
some cases, this leads to the total elimination of the Survivor Benefit 
Plan benefit. In other cases, the offset greatly reduces the benefit. 
In either case, it is out-and-out unfair and harms the survivors of our 
servicemembers and military retirees. The average offset amounts to 
about $925 per month, which is often a significant amount of money that 
a widow or a widower needs to help support their families or themselves 
in the absence of their spouses.
  Military commanders often say that you recruit the soldier but you 
retain the family. We have an obligation to make sure we are taking 
care of our military families who sacrifice so much for our country.
  Our amendment has the support of numerous military and veterans 
advocacy groups, including the Gold Star Wives of America, the Military 
Officers Association of America, the National Military Family 
Association, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the VFW, 
among others.
  More than 75 Senators--three-quarters of the Members of this 
Chamber--and 340 Members of the House of Representatives support the 
effort Senator Jones and I have led by cosponsoring our stand-alone 
bill. In fact, this legislation has been adopted by the Senate in the 
past numerous times, always by an overwhelming margin or by a voice 
vote, only to be later stripped out in the conference process.
  This problem goes back decades, but this year we can finally solve it 
once and for all. It is time for us to do our duty not only to support 
the brave men and women who serve in our military but also to support 
their families. I encourage each of our colleagues to join in this 
bipartisan effort and support the repeal of the military widow's tax as 
part of the NDAA.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Alabama.
  Mr. JONES. Mr. President, I want to echo what my colleague and 
friend, the Senator from Maine, has said about the elimination of the 
widow's tax and rise today to urge this body to bring the Military 
Widow's Tax Elimination Act of 2019 to the Senate floor for a vote this 
week as an amendment to the NDAA.
  I introduced this bipartisan legislation with my friend and colleague 
Senator Collins this year. It has been introduced numerous times. 
Legislation that is designed to right a terrible wrong has been 
introduced numerous times over the last 18 years but without success.
  Today, we are at an alltime high for cosponsorship. Seventy-five 
Members of this body, Republicans and Democrats, support this 
legislation and have signed on as cosponsors. The only other major bill 
with support in this Congress like that was the one we recently passed 
by unanimous consent to crack down on robocalls, which I know is 
something we can all agree needed to be done, and just like that, this 
legislation is needed as well.
  As Senator Collins talked about, the military widow's tax bill has 
earned overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle and from groups 
like TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the Military 
Officers Association of America, and the VFW. Support out there is 
overwhelming because it is simply the right thing to do.
  The law currently prohibits military widows from receiving their full 
survivor benefits from both the VA and the additional Department of 
Defense Survivor Benefit Plan that they paid into voluntarily. These 
Gold Star families--as many as, I think, 65,000 across the country and 
as many as 2,000 in my home State of Alabama--are being ripped off. It 
is just that plain and simple.
  To add insult to injury, they are being ripped off by the very U.S. 
Government that their loved ones swore to protect. That is absolutely 
shameful, that we would treat our military families in such a way. We 
obviously--obviously--can never repay these families for their loss and 
the sacrifices they have made, but it is our duty, I submit--our duty--
to try to do all we can. And we can dang sure stop the government from 
robbing them of the benefits they have paid for and earned.
  At the end of the day, this is a cost of war. It is a cost of 
freedom, more importantly. It is a cost of freedom. So for folks to say 
that this fix is too expensive or that there is not an obvious pay-for 
in our budgets that we have today, I would remind my colleagues that 
this bill has made it into the NDAA several times before, and we have 
waived--this body has waived the pay-go rules for it several times in 
the past because Members of this body have recognized that there are 
more important issues at play here. Many of my colleagues have 
supported this bill without a pay-for in the past.
  This week, we will be considering the NDAA, and I am very grateful to 
Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who is 
responsible for shepherding this defense authorization on the floor 
this week.
  The committee, of which I am a member, has done just incredible 
bipartisan work to get the NDAA to the floor this week.
  Senator Inhofe is a cosponsor of this bill. In 2008, when the bill 
came to the floor of the Senate as an NDAA amendment earlier, also 
without a pay-for, he noted that an effort to eliminate the widow's tax 
had been in the works for 8 years at that point, since 2000. He urged 
his colleagues to right this wrong. He spoke on the floor, stating:

       It is time we give back these benefits to those families of 
     those who have served bravely in defense of our Nation. I 
     think it is an insult to their honor and their memory to do 
     anything else.

  I couldn't agree more, and I hope that our colleagues today will, 
too, and will continue their support for our veterans and widows and 
will work with our leaders to ensure that this amendment gets a vote 
during the NDAA deliberations.
  This is our chance to right this wrong once and for all. This is not 
a partisan issue. It is an issue of common ground and, significantly, 
of common purpose. That is precisely why 75 Members of this body have 
signed on as cosponsors, to say that it is their fundamental belief 
that we should honor our promise to the families of the best and 
bravest among us who have given their lives in service to our Nation.
  I thank my Republican colleague, Senator Collins of Maine, for her 
leadership on this important issue and for being a great partner in the 
fight to finally get this legislation passed once and for all. Like she 
did a few moments ago, I urge all the rest of my colleagues in this 
body to call for this amendment to be brought to the floor for a vote 
this week as an amendment to the NDAA. Let our votes speak louder than 
our words. Let's finally right this wrong.
  I yield the floor.
  Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I ask for the yeas and nays.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there a sufficient second?
  There appears to be a sufficient second.
  The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk called the roll.
  Mr. THUNE. The following Senators are necessarily absent: the Senator 
from Louisiana (Mr. Kennedy), the Senator from South Dakota (Mr. 
Rounds), the Senator from Nebraska (Mr. Sasse), and the Senator from 
Pennsylvania (Mr. Toomey).
  Mr. DURBIN. I announce that the Senator from New York (Mrs. 
Gillibrand), the Senator from California (Ms. Harris), the Senator from 
Vermont (Mr. Sanders), and the Senator from Massachusetts (Mrs. Warren) 
are necessarily absent.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Are there any other Senators in the Chamber 
desiring to vote?
   The result was announced--yeas 86, nays 6, as follows:

                      [Rollcall Vote No. 181 Leg.]


     Cortez Masto

[[Page S4202]]

     Scott (FL)
     Scott (SC)
     Van Hollen



                             NOT VOTING--8

  The motion was agreed to.