Wyden, Merkley secure funds to boost Guard firefighting training

WASHINGTON – Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on Monday night secured their provision in the Senate’s defense bill that would provide federal funding to train more members of the National Guard to fight wildfires. But they voted no on the overall bill, objecting to the major increase in defense spending.

The Wyden-Merkley amendment would authorize federal funding to states to train their Guard members for wildfire response. It would give first preference to states with the most federal forest lands – states that have been hard-hit by this year’s record-breaking wildfire season.

They said they successfully included their amendment in a bill the Senate passed Monday night that would fund national defense programs for the next fiscal year.

“Wildfires are threatening more homes and communities every year, making it essential to get more firefighters on the front lines combating these catastrophic blazes,” Wyden said.

“Senator Merkley and I today secured a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act to train more of the brave men and women of the National Guard to protect our communities against the destruction of these natural disasters.”

“You can’t fight a fire without firefighters – and as we’ve seen during this devastating fire season, shortages of trained firefighters can put a huge squeeze on fire suppression efforts at the very moment when they are most critical,” said Merkley.

“We know already that the men and women of the National Guard are brave, disciplined, and committed to protecting our communities. I’m pleased that the entire Senate has recognized that getting our National Guard servicemembers trained up early will mean more people fighting these huge fires more quickly.”

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also cosponsored the amendment.

But Wyden and Merkley both voted against the bill over unrelated provisions.

Wyden, D-Ore., voted ‘no’ on the bill that he said allows a massive increase in military spending and undermines Buy America protections that create Made-in-the-USA jobs.

The National Defense Authorization Act authorized $693 billion in military spending, a 9 percent increase over last year, at a time when spending on roads, bridges, education and other important priorities remains stagnant.

“I can’t sign off on another bill that OKs massive increases in military spending, including unnecessary military hardware even the Trump administration didn’t ask for,” Wyden said. “All this, when Congress can’t figure out how to pay for new roads, bridges, schools and other priorities Americans desperately need to create jobs.

“Even worse, this bill undermines Buy America protections and creates new layers of red tape around life-saving medical research. I also object to a process that prevented consideration of amendments to overturn the unconscionable ban on transgender troops, or to remove prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command.”