Democratic senator warns 'what goes around, comes around' as Republican senator stalls Pentagon promotions
Stars and Stripes April 24, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee cautioned Monday that a Republican senator’s stalling tactic on Defense Department promotions will eventually harm the military and deadlock the upper chamber’s routine confirmation process for officer nominees.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the decision by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., to block the nominations as protest over the Defense Department’s abortion policies will have an accumulating “corrosive” effect on the military and pave the way for similar obstruction.
“There’s only really one rule in the United States Senate: what goes around, comes around,” Reed said during an event held by the Center for a New American Security, a left-leaning Washington think tank. “So if there’s a situation in the future where someone has a social policy you disagree with — free health care for all, etc. — [you will think], ‘Well if this succeeds, I’ll just pull the plug on general officers.’ ”
Tuberville has been holding up the promotion of about 200 senior officers for months to force the Defense Department to rescind new abortion policies that provide leave and reimbursement for service members traveling to obtain the procedure.
His blockade prevents the Senate from confirming hundreds of nominations in a unanimous voice vote and could force the Senate into voting on each nominee one by one, a process that would consume months of Senate floor time.
“This is a very serious and intrusion of politics into what should be a professional military decision,” Reed said. “It’s virtually unprecedented.”
Reed said the Defense Department will be able to manage without the promotions for the next few months, but eventually those officers will tire of waiting and move on to other opportunities. The list of held-up promotions includes new commanders for the 7th Fleet in the Indo-Pacific region, the 5th Fleet under U.S. Central Command and the military representative to NATO.
“These are professional officers who, after 30 years of dedicated service, multiple tours and combat, are being told, ‘You’re hostages for a political issue,’ ” Reed said. “That should not be and it sets a very, very dangerous precedent.”
About 650 additional nominations for senior commanders, including a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are expected through the rest of the year.
Reed on Monday also expressed concern over Republican plans to cut government spending in exchange for raising the nation’s debt limit. House Republicans unveiled a bill last week that would roll back spending to fiscal 2022 levels and limit spending growth to 1% per year for the next decade.
Republicans have traditionally opposed reductions in defense spending but Reed said he was worried the slashing of domestic programs would still negatively impact the military and potentially worsen recruitment struggles.
“We need dedicated young Americans who are educated, who are fit, who are committed to service,” he said. “If you’re not investing in education, if you’re not investing in health care, if you’re not investing in those things, we’re not going to have the kind of personnel that we need.”
Only about 200,000 young Americans are eligible intellectually and physically to serve in the military and many of them do not have the desire to enlist, said Reed, an Army veteran.
He said efforts to cut back on programs that help people also undermine the mission of the military and the morale of service members who enlist to make their country a better place.
“The ultimate question … is what are we all struggling for? Is it so that very, very wealthy people can be more wealthy or is it so that poor children can go to school and have a meal at school?” Reed asked. “I served for the latter.”