This week at a hearing of House Budget Committee on the Department of Defense and the FY13 Budget Request, Chairman Paul Ryan delivered opening remarks in which he pushed the Obama administration to honestly confront the real drivers of our debt, rather than make deep cuts to America's defense capability. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, and Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale were witnesses at the hearing. Chairman Ryan's delivered the following statement:
"Relative to last year's request, the president's budget calls for a $487 billion reduction in base defense spending over the next decade. This comes on top of already-planned spending reduction for the global war on terrorism. The United States remains a nation at war and our troops remain engaged in a fierce enemy overseas. It's difficult to square this reality with the president's steep reductions in both troop levels and funding levels. The timing of these cuts raise serious concerns that decisions are being driven by budgetary concerns, as opposed to strategic priorities.
"Mr. Secretary, I think you have a unique perspective on the tension between meeting our national security requirements and getting spending, deficits and debt under control. While they have yet to offer a balanced budget, our friends across the aisle have called for a balanced approach. Of course, budgeting is about setting priorities. Such calls assume that all of government's activities are equally important; that blind proportionality can substitute for a clear-headed analysis of our priorities and responsibilities as policymakers.
"Like all categories of government spending, defense spending should be executed with efficiency and accountability. Yet many fear the arbitrary and deep reductions that the president has proposed in the defense budget would lead to a dramatic reduction in our defense capability.
"I commend you for your efforts to fund defense priorities within a rapidly shrinking budget. Your predicament, in my opinion, Secretary, is due to failures elsewhere in the federal budget. According to Harvard's Niall Ferguson, a financial historian, 'the fall of great nations is the result of their excessive debt burdens. In their path to decline, defense spending is always the first casualty.'
"The failure by the administration to deal honestly with the drivers of debt, specifically when it comes to government spending on health care, is a failure that imperils our economic security and now our national security. With its calls for crushing levels of debt and the crowding out of defense by entitlement spending, the president's budget in my personal opinion charts a path to decline.
"In addition to examining the steep defense reductions in the president's budget, I hope today's hearing informs us of the consequences to our security that would result from the disproportionate cuts to defense spending under the Budget Control Act sequester. Congress has a solemn obligation to ensure our troops fighting overseas have the resources that they need to successfully complete their admissions, and to adhere to our commitment to their service upon their return.
"Every citizen owes a debt of gratitude to the military families that continue to make untold sacrifices for our security and for the freedoms that we cherish. We are in deep gratitude. We want to make sure that we honor them with the right kind of priorities, with the right kind of defense policy."