Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On The President's FY 18 Funding Request For The Department Of Defense

Thank you, Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Durbin, for the opportunity to make these brief remarks. Welcome to Secretary Mattis and General Dunford. This Committee benefits from your expertise and your candor.

It has been almost 3 months since you last testified before this Committee, and there has been no shortage of world events in that short time.  American missiles have targeted and struck Syrian forces. A massive ransomware cyberattack spread around the globe.  North Korea has tested new missiles. The United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords joining just Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not joining the international community to combat a global threat.  And mind you Nicaragua stayed out of the agreement because it didn’t think those accords went far enough. These are just a few of the biggest recent headlines.

In this chaotic world, this President – with his minimal experience in government, foreign affairs and defense policy – adds to that chaos. I know that you both provide steady voices as we debate our military policy and spending priorities.  But as we have discussed previously, I know that you both share my belief that we cannot maintain the strongest military at the expense of our domestic priorities.  This makes us neither safe, nor strong, nor great.  And our national security is not limited to the activities of the Department of Defense. Secretary Mattis, you have testified before Congress that “If you [the Congress] don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Yet, the President proposes to cut foreign assistance by 30 percent.

Secretary Mattis, the President’s budget proposal may provide money for more bullets, but it fails in every other regard.  It cuts housing assistance for low income and disabled Americans.  It cuts support for state and local law enforcement.  It underfunds our anti-opioid and anti-heroin efforts.  It cuts rural development programs that create jobs and support our local economies.  It eliminates the Small Business Administration – small businesses are the backbone of our economy.  It cuts critical programs that will protect our environment for generations to come.  How is the Trump budget a “foundation for greatness?” 

Secretary Mattis, you have said that historically “nations that didn’t keep their fiscal house in order, their economies strong, lost their military power.” In Congress, we have varied opinions about how we do that.  But the budget President Trump has proposed is a false choice between maintaining our military might and protecting essential domestic priorities. 

We talk about “parity” for defense and non-defense spending.  These are intrinsically linked.  We cannot be militarily strong while economically weak.  You both know that.  I know that.  I suspect most if not all of the members of this panel know that.  I am committed to drafting appropriations bills that reflect that. I challenge both of you to join in that effort. Thank you.

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