Michigan lawmakers get priorities in House defense bill

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau
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Washington — The U.S. House on Friday passed a $697 billion defense bill that included amendments by Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee to address problems in communities such as Oscoda that have had drinking water contaminated by the military’s past use of perfluorinated chemicals.

Plumes of perfluorinated chemicals have migrated from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base near Lake Huron and have been detected in nearby water systems and the Au Sable River. State health officials have said continued exposure to PFCs in drinking water could harm human health.

Kildee’s amendments, introduced with bipartisan colleagues in Congress, would require the Department of Defense to conduct a study on the health effects of exposure to two types of PFCs at military installations that have been found in high levels in drinking water in Oscoda and other locations.

The amendments, approved as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, would also require Defense officials to report to Congress on developing an alternative to PFCs, which the military used in a fire-fighting foam at Wurtsmith and other bases around the country for training and crash response by fire crews.

“The Air Force and the Department of Defense must do more to address harmful chemicals like PFCs, including caring for veterans exposed to these toxic substances as a part of their service but also residents living near military bases who now have contaminated drinking water,” Kildee said in a statement.

The NDAA legislation passed the House on a 344-81 vote. The Flint Township lawmaker was among 73 Democrats to vote against the overall bill, despite his successful amendments.

Through a spokesman, Kildee said increasing defense spending without a broader budget approved by Congress could endanger support for domestic programs such as food stamps, Pell Grants and Community Development Block Grants for cities.

Other Michigan members who opposed the bill included Reps. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township; John Conyers, D-Detroit; Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak; and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.

Levin expressed similar concerns to Kildee’s, noting that, because of its size, the defense bill would have “major impact” on domestic programs that remain subject to spending caps.

The defense bill included a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops. It fully funds the A-10 Warthog fleet and provides $103 million for wing upgrades to keep more than 100 attack planes from being grounded indefinitely, officials said.

The Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing at maintains about 20 A-10s at Selfridge Air Force Base in Harrison Township, where operations related to the fleet support 180 full-time jobs and nearly 300 part-time jobs.

A measure sponsored by Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, would block the government’s proposed sale of semi-automatic handguns and ammunition to the Turkish government.

Trott proposed the provision in response to an attack by armed members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail on peaceful protestors in Washington during Erdogan’s U.S. visit in May.

“Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed our NATO allies take extraordinary steps against Turkey, and it’s time for the State Department to do the same,” Trott said. “We need to block this arms sale and once and for all point a finger in Erdogan’s chest and tell him that a strategic location does not place Turkey above the law.”

A provision added by Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, calls on North Atlantic Treaty Organization member nations to honor their defense spending commitments.

“For far too long, our nation has shared an unequal financial burden in contributing to the global and regional security that NATO provides,” Bishop said Friday on the House floor.

The House on Thursday rejected a controversial amendment to the defense bill that would have prohibited the coverage of transition-related medical procedures for transgender members of the military. Twenty-four Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat the proposal, including Amash and Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet.

Amash later explained his vote, noting that the White House and Defense Secretary James Mattis had urged the House not to adopt the amendment, as the Defense Department reviews a 2016 policy that permits medical treatment for transgender service members only when it’s “medically necessary.”

" As a retired general, Sec. Mattis knows a lot more than most members of Congress about how to build a strong and ready force," Amash wrote in a Facebook post.

"After Sec. Mattis announces the DoD’s finalized policy, we can discuss the policy with him, evaluate it, and seek changes if necessary. Those who serve in our Armed Forces deserve the best medical care. One question we must ask and answer, with the aid of the medical community, is which treatments are medically necessary and which are simply elective. With respect to transgender persons, we should focus on the best science, not the political or philosophical opinions of partisans."​


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