Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing to consider funding levels for the Department of Defense to maintain our nation’s military. I welcome our distinguished witnesses this morning. I also want to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division and the families here at home that served with them.
Today we consider the Fiscal Year 2018 Trump Administration budget that seeks $574 billion in base funding and $65 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations.
As we all know, the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and the sequester are still the law of the land, and this budget request for DOD exceeds the BCA’s defense spending cap by $52 billion. Rather than negotiate with Congress or propose an outright repeal of the BCA and the sequester, President Trump proposes to offset an increase in defense spending with a $52 billion cut in non-defense spending. Unless the BCA is changed, the offset will seriously harm non-defense spending and fail to prevent across-the-board cuts reclaiming the $52 billion, leaving DOD in a worse position.
We have already held many hearings this year where senior civilian and military leaders have repeatedly urged us to remove the BCA caps and end sequestration. Like Chairman McCain, I believe it is time to repeal the BCA. Setting arbitrary spending thresholds on defense and non-defense spending has not made our country safer, and it has not fixed our broader fiscal problems. Nor do these caps, which were set nearly six years ago, accurately reflect what our military needs in order to confront today’s threats or the kind of domestic investment we need to keep America competitive and strong.
Let me be clear: I am not opposed to increased military spending. Democrats have and will continue to support robust defense spending. But it is the duty of this Committee to carefully review the budget proposals presented by the President to ensure that the funds are allocated properly so that our fighting men and women have what they need to complete their mission and return home safely. Every member, regardless of party, takes this duty seriously.
I also believe that our budget must reflect our nation’s core values and take care of Americans who remain at home. Our military personnel have a vision of the America they are fighting for, and it is our duty to protect that. I therefore have grave concerns about the President’s budget request because it robs from Peter to pay Paul. The President’s proposal increases defense spending, but it also eliminates $17.3 billion from the State Department’s efforts to prevent wars and foster peace, which is the very kind of spending that Secretary Mattis has said is so crucial to our military’s efforts. It also slashes funding for health investments like the NIH, the CDC, and training for health care professionals to fight against global public health epidemics, such as Ebola, before they reach the U.S. This budget request also eliminates programs like LIHEAP, which helps low-income Americans heat and cool their homes, and the Community Development Block Grant and the Economic Development Administration, which help communities make smart investments in their infrastructure. And it cuts funding for housing, including lead abatement programs. Certainly, our military needs additional resources to climb out of the readiness hole it is in and, at the same time, deter conflict with near-peer competitors, but I do not believe we should do so at the expense of diplomacy and vulnerable Americans. I would also note that for over the last 15 years we have found it important enough to send our brave men and women to war, but we have not had the courage to raise revenues to pay for these wars, as this nation has historically done.
As we examine what funding requirements are necessary for the safety and security of our country, we need to look at our federal budget in a much broader context. The BCA’s delineation between “defense” and “non-defense” spending has had the unfortunate effect of pitting each category of funding against the other. Instead, we would be better served if we consider the needs of our nation holistically.
I also believe that it would be best if we examined the President’s budget request in the context of an overall national security strategy. Such a strategy, however, has not clearly emerged as we enter the sixth month of this Administration. We seem to careen from one foreign policy crisis to another – many of which are the Administration’s own making. This takes up valuable energy and attention at a time when there are several significant national security challenges on which we need to be focused.
Secretary Mattis and General Dunford, you have been consummate professionals and steady hands in a tumultuous time. But we face many difficult decisions, both strategic and budgetary, that demand the kind of leadership and engagement that only a grounded and focused President can provide.
I look forward to working with you, and my colleagues, as we address these important issues. I am proud that this Committee has always worked in a bipartisan fashion during this process, and I look forward to working with the Chairman and all the Committee members to come to a reasonable agreement again this year.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.