Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On The Defense Appropriations Sub Committee Hearing: “A Review Of The Budget And Readiness Of The Department Of Defense”

Thank you, Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Durbin, for holding this important hearing to review the budget and readiness of the Department of Defense.

The 2017 supplemental that President Trump has proposed for the Department of Defense would exceed the spending caps for defense set in the Budget Control Act, triggering sequestration and across-the-board cuts for the Department of Defense, in just 10 weeks, if the law is not changed.  I believe all Members of this Subcommittee should work cooperatively to avoid that outcome, but cooperation is a two-way street.

Since 2012, the sequestration law has forced Congress to enact budget cuts in both defense and non-defense spending that will have negative consequences for a generation.  Today, only one-third of army combat units are ready to be deployed.  For two consecutive years, the Navy has faced annual shortfalls in excess of $700 million in ship maintenance, which have resulted in critical maintenance periods being canceled.  But sequestration has produced terrible consequences for the average American as well—our infrastructure is failing, investment in job training and employment are down, and education funding lags behind.  All of this impacts national security and makes us less safe. 

A failing infrastructure undermines our national security by weakening economic growth and creating vulnerabilities in our bridges, our water systems, and our electrical grid.  Cuts in programs that invest in job training, in innovation, in education, and in nutrition, hurt our economy in the long run, and cripple our ability to provide our armed forces with men and women capable of serving.  Reduced funding for medical research and disease prevention makes America less healthy. 

Slashing non-defense programs to pay for an increase in defense spending is not a solution and would not make our nation safer.  National security is not solely the mission of the Department of Defense.  The President says he prefers “hard” power to “soft” power, but the notion that “soft” power is weak or wasteful is mindless.  Failing to invest in America, and cutting programs that feed millions, prevent AIDS or treat tuberculosis and malaria, will make the world less stable, and make your job more difficult.  Secretary Mattis, you have even said that if we do not fully fund the State Department, we should be prepared to buy more ammunition for the military.  That is not a trade I am willing to accept.

While we must ensure that we do not have a “hollow force,” we must also avoid a “hollow country.” That is precisely what President Trump’s budget proposes. Sequestration has already had devastating consequences that will take a generation to recover from. The President’s proposal seeks to add even further draconian cuts to non-defense programs.  This, I believe, would leave us with a hollow force and a hollow country.

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