Northern Arizona’s two representatives in Congress took sharply contrasting positions last week when it came time to vote on a $740-billion bill to fund the U.S. military.
The House approved the measure on a strong, bipartisan vote.
The U.S. Senate also voted 86-14 to adopt its version of the military budget bill, which includes a controversial provision to rename military bases now named for Confederate generals.
Both of Arizona’s U.S. senators – Democrat Martha McSally and Democrat Kysten Sinema – supported the measure.
In the House, Rep. Paul Gosar blasted many provisions of the bill, including a military legal system to at least temporarily seize the guns of a soldier thought to pose a potential threat to a spouse or family member.
However, Rep. Tom O’Halleran strongly supported the bill, praising a provision that would ban uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
The bill provides a 3% pay raise for the military and funds basic operations, but also included a host of more controversial provisions. Defense bills normally command such bipartisan support that Congress often loads the defense spending bill with other provisions and home-town support for military bases scattered strategically across the country.
Sinema touted a long list of provisions that will impact Arizona, including $5.5 billion for the F-35 stealth fighter jet based at Luke Air Force Base, blocking retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt based in Tucson, $193 in added funding for the Compass Call aerial command and surveillance aircraft based at Davis -Monthan, $100 million to buy up land to keep Fort Huachuca open, and numerous other programs at Arizona bases.
House and Senate negotiators will now have to meet to work out the differences between the bills.
President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill, based on several provisions including the authorization to remove the names of confederate generals from military bases.
This year, the House version included provisions intended to curb President Trump’s authority to deploy troops to American cities even when local officials haven’t asked for help. The House and Senate versions differed on those provisions.
The bill also includes $1 billion to help the military deal with the pandemic, with infection rates among troops rising rapidly. More than 20,000 U.S. service members have so far tested positive for the virus, with a threefold increase in the past six weeks. The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates the hospitalization rate for COVID 19 in the U.S. military is 50 times greater than for the general public, perhaps reflecting the shared living spaces common in active duty personnel.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) cited a host of reasons for his vote against the bill. This included provisions that would make it possible for military police to confiscate weapons in cases of alleged domestic violence threats, restrictions on the President’s ability to deploy active duty troops to the border or cities experiencing civil unrest, and provisions intended to reduce climate-warming pollution by military forces and avoid discrimination in promotions for women and minorities.
“While the bill contains several substantive provisions, including key funding for Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Yuma Proving Ground, I could not vote for the bill in its current form since it includes an unconstitutional gun confiscation program, backdoor access for Chines Community Party members to buy U.S. visas, handicaps the Secretary of Defense’s border security efforts, restricts the President’s ability to restore law and order in times of unrest and contains many ‘green initiatives’ that are not relevant to national defense,” Gosar stated in a press release.
Gosar’s district includes most of western Arizona, but also encompasses Prescott, the Verde Valley and all of Rim Country.
On the other hand, Democrat Tom O’Halleran staunchly supported the bundle of bills, which passed the House on a 295-125 bipartisan vote.
O’Halleran said, “I was proud to join my colleagues in voting to pass this bipartisan package that supports our troops and their families and ensures that our national defense remains the strongest in the world. I am beyond pleased that within this bill is legislation to permanently ban uranium mining in and near the Grand Canyon.”
O’Halleran’s district includes all of the White Mountains as well as the Navajo and Apache reservations and most of Coconino county, including Flagstaff.
O’Halleran also cited provisions that would allow for commercial use of a portion of Camp Navajo near Flagstaff, protections for the A-10 Warthog and the KC-135 refueling aircraft based in Arizona, compensation for people suffering from possible uranium exposure and restrictions on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
Critics of that provision say that the U.S. must maintain and expand its uranium stockpiles and point out that the threat of water supply contamination is remote. However, advocates for the ban on uranium mines on watersheds draining into the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River maintain it could cause additional health problems for people on the Navajo Nation and threaten drinking water supplies for 40 million people.
“O’Halleran argued that “rural and tribal communities throughout northern Arizona are still grappling with negative health effects left behind by toxic, abandoned uranium mines dating back to the Cold War; many continue to fight the cancers and disease caused by radiation exposure decades ago. Expanding uranium mining capabilities in the area would aggravate these serious health risks. Currently, the river and nearby aquifers are the main water source for over 40 million people across the Southwest.”
Rep. Gosar said the bill had too many extraneous provisions not directly related to military capability.
He criticized the provisions requiring the renaming of bases named after Confederate generals, irrelevant “green” initiatives to adapt to global warming and sea level rise, restrictions on use of active military troops on the border, “distractive social experiments” like efforts to monitor and reduce sexual and racial disparities in promotions and reduce sexual assault in the military.
His most strident language focused on what amounts to a military “red flag” provision that would make it possible to temporarily confiscate the weapons of a member of the service if a spouse or family member claimed he or she posed a threat of violence.
The Gun Owners of America opposed those provisions, saying the measure doesn’t provide enough protection against the seizure of weapons and the violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Many states bar people convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm, but so-called “Red Flag” laws provide a way for police to confiscate guns if there’s evidence of a threat to others prior to a full hearing before a judge.
Gosar called the Military Court Gun Confiscation Order “a disgusting violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights of our service personnel who risk their lives to defend those same constitutional rights every day.”
Gosar predicted President Trump would veto the bill.