Floor Statement on Strengthening America's Military
MR. REED: Mr. President, it is my intention when it is appropriate to offer an amendment entitled Strengthening America's Military. This amendment will repeal the extension of tax breaks for capital gain and dividends and instead use the funding to give our military some of the vital help it needs. There is no question we have the most formidable military in the world. It is a combination of the courage and skill of our fighting men and women, together with the best technology. But we have to ensure that this Army and our Marine Corps and all of our military forces are adequately equipped. It is a question of priorities. As members of this administration are quick to point out, we are a nation at war. But they have not asked all the people of this Nation to sacrifice for that war, something this country has done in almost all past conflicts. There are literally thousands of young Americans serving and sacrificing in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the globe. Their families sacrifice as they wait for them to return. Their communities have sacrificed as they have seen National Guard units mobilized and sent overseas. But the vast majority of Americans has not been summoned to this great struggle. I argue now is the time where such sacrifice is necessary, particularly among those who benefit most from society. Rather than debating whether to extend certain tax cuts, we should consider ways to increase Federal revenues to pay for the costs of the war, something the country has done in almost all past military conflicts. To raise the additional revenues needed to equip our military, we first need to remove the provisions in the tax reconciliation bill that extend the lower tax rates on dividends and capital gains. There are many reasons to oppose the extension of the lower tax rates and dividends on capital gains, but the key reason is the fact they are unfair. Most of the tax goes to upper income families: 53 percent of the tax goes to .2 percent of families who have incomes of $1 million or more; 78 percent of the tax goes to families with incomes of $200,000 or more. Secondly, there is a host of offsets that Democrats and Republicans alike have supported. As the ranking member on the Budget Committee, Senator Conrad has long pressed for such amendments, including shutting down abusive tax shelters, ending a loophole for oil companies that lets them avoid taxes on foreign corporations, and ending the tax benefit for the leasing of foreign subway and sewer systems, requiring tax withholding on Government payments to contractors, and renewing the Superfund tax so polluting companies pay for cleaning up toxic waste. These offsets, included in this amendment, more than meet the equipment needs of our soldiers, and as such, the remaining revenue will go for reducing the deficit, another important goal and need. When I say equipment needs,'' I mean repairing, rehabilitating, and replacing, or what the military calls resetting and recapitalization'' of the equipment of the Army and the Marine Corps which is being used in Afghanistan and Iraq. I recently returned from my seventh trip to Iraq and my fourth trip to Afghanistan. I was impressed by the superb dedication and professionalism of our fighting men and women. However, it is clear to me and to many experts who study the military that our Armed Forces, particularly our ground forces, are suffering from the strain on personnel and equipment. An article in today's USA Today notes that the war in Iraq is taking the biggest toll on military equipment since the Vietnam war. Last week, the National Security Advisory Group, chaired by former Secretary William Perry, released a report about the strain and risk for our military. In their words: Given the harsh environment of Iraq and Afghanistan [resetting the force] is proving more extensive and expensive than in previous operations. Estimates of the cost of rehabilitating Army equipment coming back from operations overseas continues to grow in addition, both the Army and the Marine Corps expect to see increasing costs associated with recapitalizing aging forces and transforming their capabilities for a broader range of 21st century missions. Gary Motsek, the Army's Deputy Director for Support Operations at the U.S. Materiel Command, has stated the Army has to repair or rebuild virtually everything that goes to Iraq. If you have been to Iraq--and I know many of my colleagues have--this is an intense and difficult environment to operate equipment; certainly intense and difficult for military personnel there. The temperatures in the summertime can get to be 120 degrees. There is sand throughout the country which is sucked up into the blades of helicopters, into the intakes of moving vehicles on the ground. The wear and tear is extensive. The same is true with Afghanistan. It is very difficult, in addition, because of the high altitudes. It is extremely difficult for our helicopters and our fixed-wing aircraft to operate, particularly helicopters. These are very demanding environments and they are taking their toll on equipment. We have to ensure that our military forces have this equipment. Let me further point out, we are not talking about buying a new class of ships or planes. We are just talking about taking those vehicles that have been run down because of combat operations and bringing them back into the shop, fixing them, repairing them, and getting them back to our troops. If we do not do that, then what we are going to see--perhaps not this month or next month or this year but inevitably--is that our forces will be sent out with equipment which is inadequate, which is literally, perhaps, falling apart. We owe it to these soldiers, we owe it to these marines, we owe it to the Nation to make sure they have the best equipment, the best maintained equipment. That is going to cost a lot of money. The question here today is, very simply: How will we pay for it? Do we give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans in terms of dividend preferences, or do we give a dividend to our soldiers and marines? And the dividend is equipment they can count on--reliable, well-maintained equipment, ready for battle. I would vote for a dividend for our troops, not special dividend treatment for the wealthiest Americans. In a briefing given to staff members of the Armed Services Committee this month, the Army estimated over the next 6 years it will cost approximately $35.6 billion to reset and recapitalize the force. Last November, the Marine Corps estimated it would cost $11.7 billion to repair and replace their equipment over the next 5 years. These are costs that are already incurred. We cannot avoid them. This is not buying new things we need or want. This is fixing what we have and must operate. And there is no end in sight to our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We hope that improvements in the security climate will allow forces to be redeployed, equipment to be redeployed. But any sensible observer in both countries would tell you quickly that our presence will be long term and the demands on our troops and equipment will be there not just this year but for many years in the future. GEN Paul Kern, who just retired as head of the Army Materiel Command, gave an estimate of between $60 and $100 billion to replace the Army equipment alone--just the Army equipment: to replace it, repair it, get our troops back to the condition they were before these operations began in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last October, GAO released a report on military readiness. It assessed the state of 30 pieces of equipment, predominantly tanks, vehicles, helicopters, and aircraft. It made several disturbing observations. It stated: GAO's analysis showed that reported readiness rates declined between fiscal years 1999 and 2004 for most of these items. The decline in readiness, which occurred more markedly in fiscal years 2003 and 2004, generally resulted from 1. the continued high use of equipment to support current operations and 2. maintenance issues caused by the advancing ages and complexity of the systems. Key equipment items--such as Army and Marine Corps trucks, combat vehicles and rotary wing aircraft--have been used well beyond normal peacetime use during deployments in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In sum, we are wearing this equipment out in combat operations overseas that are continuing today and will continue for the foreseeable future. This equipment is essential for our defense and for the protection of our military personnel. We have to do this. It is unavoidable. And the question, again, is very clear: Are we going to give a dividend to the wealthiest Americans or a dividend to our troops in the form of equipment they can rely upon, equipment they can use to defend us, equipment that will protect them, equipment that will assure their families they have the best, so when they bid them farewell, as their unit deploys, they will not have to worry that equipment will break down and endanger their loved ones? That is our job. To me, the choice is pretty clear. This report of the GAO goes on to say: Until the DOD ensures that condition issues for key equipment are addressed, DOD risks a continued decline in readiness trends, which could threaten its ability to continue meeting mission requirements. The military services have not fully identified near and long term program strategies and funding plans to ensure that all of the 30 selected equipment items can meet defense requirements. This language is very disturbing. It suggests rather strongly that the readiness of our military forces is in question in terms of equipment, certainly, if we do not respond quickly. And respond'' does not simply mean borrow some more money and throw it at the problem. To me, it means making sure our priorities are such that we can afford to do this not just today but in the years ahead. Another GAO report states that more than 101,000 pieces of National Guard equipment, including trucks, radios, and night vision devices, have been sent to soldiers in operations overseas. This means the Guard does not have the equipment it needs to respond to crises here. It is another aspect of our deployment situation. We have shipped Guard units over along with their equipment. The equipment has stayed behind. The Guard has come back. If there is a crisis in the homeland, if there is a natural disaster, we are deploying Guard units without a lot of the equipment they had just 2 or 3 years ago, a lot of the equipment which is essential to their plans to respond to crises in the homeland and natural disasters. I believe this problem was exemplified during Katrina when the Guard stated its communications equipment had been overseas and, therefore, it was unable to operate effectively in the aftermath of the disaster. There are real costs that we have to face today, and we have to face it not simply by charging it to the next generation but by biting the bullet, asking people to make sacrifices. And, again, when the sacrifice is the choice between a dividend that accumulates for the very wealthiest Americans or a dividend for the troops, give the dividend to the troops. Mr. President, these reports are warning signs. Now, Secretary Rumsfeld continues to state that our troops are performing well and are battle hardened. He is absolutely correct. But our troops and their equipment cannot continue to perform well without the proper upkeep. Our troops need a break, and their equipment needs to be repaired and refurbished. I think he has to distinguish, and we all have to distinguish, between the individual valor and skill and patriotism of soldiers and marines and their units and the institutional Army and Marine Corps, with their need to continue to provide adequate equipment for all of these troops and these units. There is no doubt about the fighting spirit and fighting skill and the tenacity and the experience of these units today. But you have to look very clearly at the capacity of the Army and the Marine Corps to generate the equipment and rehabilitate the equipment and repair the equipment that these soldiers and marines rely upon. Secretary Rumsfeld says reports such as the Perry report I mentioned and the report by Andy Krepenevich--a former military officer who was actually commissioned by the Pentagon to do the report, and who looked at it and reached the same conclusions, essentially, as the Perry report--he says they were looking at old data when they found that the military was strained. There Secretary Rumsfeld is wrong. These reports were not looking back, they were looking forward. And they see danger ahead, and make the point very clearly that our Army is not broken, but the strain is increasing. And if we do not act now--responsibly now--to fix these problems, the future ahead is dire, indeed, for our forces in terms of their readiness, in terms of their equipment preparedness, and in terms of the strain on our personnel. The responsible thing to do is not simply go out and borrow $50 or $60 billion more and add it to our deficit, it is to make the hard choices here, to demand a little of the sacrifice that our soldiers and marines and sailors and airmen and airwomen give us every day. Secretary Rumsfeld says we have the finest fighting force in the world. I agree with that. The difference is, I want to keep it that way, and I want to do it honestly. I want to do it by paying for it. I want to do it by making sure we set the priorities right here, now, not simply borrowing more money, going down the road borrowing again and again and again because eventually--and I believe the military understands this--we are not going to be able to fund these operations and these requirements by simply having supplemental appropriations every year which are outside the budget. At some point, the effect on our economy, the effect on our fiscal posture is so crippling that we will have to scale back. And the people who will be squeezed out, then, will be the soldiers and the marines and the sailors and airmen and airwomen we count on today to defend and protect us. The Perry report makes the following recommendation: In order to restore the health of U.S. ground forces in the wake of Iraq, the nation must step up and invest substantial resources to reset, recapitalize, and modernize the force. ..... Restoring the health of both services is not a matter of simply returning them to their status quo; it is a matter of ensuring that they are organized, trained, equipped and restored to meet the full range of traditional and nontraditional challenges in the future. Next year alone, in the budget and the supplemental, the Army needs $23 billion and the Marines need $7.5 billion for reset and recapitalization--again, military terms for repairing, rehabilitating, getting the equipment back up to operational readiness. While we have yet to see the President's budget, or the supplemental, it is not guaranteed these needs will be funded. In recent years, the President's budget requests and the supplementals have provided less funding than the military services have requested. Furthermore, if it is funded, this just covers this year's bill. These bills will continue on for many years. As I pointed out before, at some point economic pressures--and, ironically, those pressures will be more severe if the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan begin to resolve themselves--those pressures could curtail the adequate funding necessary to fully care for this equipment and the personnel who operate this equipment. It is time we asked Americans to sacrifice a little for those who do so much for us. As someone who commanded a company of paratroopers in a younger day, I can tell you, there is nothing more disconcerting to morale than not having good equipment to do your job. Not only does it endanger the soldier and the marine, it sends a much stronger signal about our priorities and what we care about in terms of supporting the military than any speech given by any politician in Washington or elsewhere. That is our responsibility today, to stand up and be counted--like those troops are standing up and being counted--to take care of their needs, and do it responsibly, not add more to the deficit, not add more force to choke off, eventually, the funding they need so desperately to do their job so well. More than anything else, when soldiers go out on operations, they and their families want to be certain they have the best equipment and that that equipment is well maintained. Rather than providing dividends to the wealthy, let's provide our troops with an equipment dividend. Our fighting men and women have volunteered to risk their lives every single day in a war zone for the rest of us. They deserve the best, and we owe it to them. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment. To me, the logic is compelling. The need to help is there. Let's put our actions where so many times our words are. Mr. President, I yield back the remainder of my time to the Senator from Montana.