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Giffords: National security must be a top priority of 112th Congress

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Giffords: National security must be a top priority of 112th Congress

I took the congressional oath of office for a third time this week and the most important of the 71 words in that oath was my vow to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

These words are especially critical and poignant this year as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on our country.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am committed to ensuring our military personnel have the training, equipment and leadership they need to combat extremists who seek to do us harm.

When American and British forces launched the war in Afghanistan, our military goal was – and is – clear: Remove the Taliban from power, track down al Qaeda terrorists and allow the people of Afghanistan to run their own country.

As our military concentrates on al Qaeda – a direct threat to our national security – there are other threats that will command my attention this year.

The first is of special concern to those of us in Southern Arizona: the continued inability of our federal government to secure our border with Mexico.

My district is one of 10 in the nation abutting Mexico – a country where more than 30,000 people have been murdered during a drug-fueled civil war that has jeopardized the safety of our citizens. In 2010, this violence led to the murder of Southern Arizona rancher Rob Krentz and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

We must extend the stay of National Guard troops. We must increase the number of Border Patrol agents on the border. We must continue to invest in technology including unmanned aerial surveillance, forward operating bases and improved cell phone service.

The second threat is our dependence on imported oil – much of which comes from nations hostile to our principles. Our enemies are aware of our reliance on oil and use it to their advantage.

The Department of Defense is the world's largest consumer of energy. We must accelerate the production of biofuels for aviation, promote large-scale renewable energy projects at defense facilities, study the integration of hybrid technology into tactical vehicles and require the military to derive 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

The third stealth threat to our security is the decline in the number of Americans with college degrees. The United States once was the global leader in the percentage of young people with degrees. But today we have fallen to 12th among 36 developed nations.

I am especially concerned about our shortfalls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). U.S. high school seniors recently tested below the international average for 21 countries in math and science. These students will be poorly equipped to keep our nation's defense industries the world's best and to protect our information networks against cyber threats.

I have worked to create and sustain programs at the National Science Foundation that strengthen these education programs. I strongly supported the America COMPETES Act that updated teacher scholarship programs to train highly competent secondary teachers in STEM fields.

The fourth, and most important, threat to our nation is our $14 trillion debt. This is why I introduced legislation on the first full day of the new session to cut the salaries of members of Congress by 5 percent.

Cutting congressional salaries sends a clear message that lawmakers are prepared to make sacrifices to get our economic house in order.

The recent report by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is a starting point for a much-needed national discussion on this critical issue.

The commission report includes several ideas that I support, including aggressive deficit reduction targets, discretionary spending caps and a sunset commission to cut wasteful spending and invest federal dollars where they are most needed.

We are a great nation, but these threats to our national security can leave us fragile. We cannot succumb to such menaces.

Gabrielle Giffords represented Arizona’s 8th Congressional District from 2007 to 2012, when she resigned to focus on her recovery after being wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings. She founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, along with husband Mark Kelly, to focus on preventing gun violence.

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