WASHINGTON - Today, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, made the following opening remarks on the Committee's markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. To view the mark's text click here. To watch the markup live visit our YouTube channel or watch on our website.
"The Committee meets today to consider and mark up H.R. 2810, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018.
For 55 straight years, under Congresses and Presidents of both parties, an annual NDAA has been signed into law. I am certain that this year will be no different. The members of this committee have an overwhelming commitment to the duty placed on us by the Constitution to support the men and women who serve our nation in the military.
Every member of this committee has contributed to this legislation. Committee members suggested 1,531 separate legislative provisions for consideration in the marks. Over 330 amendments were filed for today.
But Members also contributed by asking thoughtful questions at our briefings and hearings, by traveling to visit our troops at home and overseas, by sharing their personal experience and insights, and by talking with one another about how to solve problems.
And so, first, I want to express my appreciation to each of the Members and to the staff for their work so far in developing this year’s NDAA. This is a team effort, and I think it is safe to say that there is nothing else like it these days in Congress.
We began our hearings this year looking at the state of the world and the nature of the threats we face. We went on to examine the state of our military after years of continuing resolutions and the Budget Control Act. What we heard was alarming and was also reflected in Secretary Mattis’s testimony before us on June 12. I was struck by this paragraph in his testimony,
'Four years later, I returned to the Department and I have been shocked by what I’ve seen with our readiness to fight. For all the heartache cause by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration. We have only sustained our ability to meet America’s commitments abroad because our troops have stoically shouldered a much greater burden.'
This FY 2018 NDAA takes significant steps toward repairing and rebuilding our military while continuing to reform the Pentagon to make it more agile and more capable of supporting our warfighters.
Last fall, I asked the committee staff to develop a plan to put our military on a better track – to repair our planes and ships, to fill out our formations, and to accelerate the development of new, innovative systems and technologies. The conclusion was that we need a base defense budget of $640 billion in FY 18 and steady growth thereafter.
Today we will markup a bill totaling $631.5 billion for base requirements and $65 billion for the Overseas contingency Operations account. It is a compromise to get all of the relevant House committees on the same page. The goal is not only to fund defense adequately this year, but to establish significant, predictable growth in future years. I recognize that there are a number of legislative steps to go before final authorization and appropriations bills are sent to the President and before changes are made to the BCA caps. But I also believe that the time for band-aid solutions that place more burdens on our troops is over.
It is important to remind us all where we have been on defense spending in recent years. From 2010 to 2015, total defense spending was cut 22% in constant dollars. Today, even after the Trump supplemental request was signed into law, FY 17 defense spending is 18% lower than it was in 2010, measured in constant dollars. And remember, 2010, the year we are measuring against, was before Russia invaded Crimea, before China built islands in the South China Sea, before any of us had ever heard of ISIS, and certainly before North Korea embarked on its crash missile program.
The Administration sent us a budget proposal for $603 billion, about 5% above current spending and about 3% above the amount that the Obama Administration had proposed for FY18. Their proposal would cut missile defense below current spending, cut ship building accounts, add no additional soldiers to the Army, etc.
While Secretary Mattis and General Dunford testified that they support the Administration’s request, of course, they also testified that they supported every one of the unfunded requirements submitted by the Services. And so the difference in the Administration’s request and this mark is that we fund $21 billion out of the $31 billion in unfunded requirements, plus we start moving toward the 350 ship Navy with an extra $6 billion in shipbuilding.
We also have to remember that Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says it is Congress’s responsibility to “raise and support” “provide and maintain” the military forces of the United States. Naturally, we are interested in the Executive’s suggestions, but it is our job to decide.
We all have responsibilities outside this room related to larger budget issues of taxes and spending. There are many moving pieces to the broader budget picture that will develop over this year. But for today and for our responsibilities as the Armed Services Committee, it is important for us to put down this marker for what we need for national defense.
At same time, we continue reforms. The two driving priorities of this bill, as far as I am concerned, are rebuild and reform. Some of most significant reforms are in subcommittee marks, such as reform of the management of space and reform of the oversight of cyber operations.
The Chairman’s mark includes another installment of acquisition reform, focusing on online marketplaces, audit reform, planning for service contracts, sustainment costs, and intellectual property, as well as data transparency. I introduced this bill more than a month ago, have gotten a number of suggestions, some criticism, and even a little praise. There have been some changes to the language as a result of that feedback. I think these reforms will make a substantial difference.
I will just mention a few other highlights of the bill:
Chairman Dunford made the point that our center of gravity is our alliances. Provisions in this bill work to strengthen our alliances in Europe, in Asia, in Middle East, and elsewhere.
It supports increased end strength, as requested by the Army, Air Force, and Navy.
It fully funds the pay raise to which the statutory formula says our troops are entitled.
It tries to assist military spouses’ in being able to practice their vocation as they are forced to move from duty station to duty station.
It adds significant funding to depots and to other accounts to accelerate the repair of our weapons and equipment.
And it makes some progress of repairing or tearing down old facilities that have long been neglected.
Finally, the bill supports the Administration’s requests for the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, but, of course, there are more questions that need to be answered and oversight conducted about the future course of those conflicts.
Before we wade off into the details of the bill, I want to offer a little historical perspective. Robert Patterson was Under Secretary of War during World War II. He was a lawyer, a federal district and court of appeals judge, but left the bench in 1940 to help the War Department. He 'oversaw all fronts of domestic production, from laces for the GIs’ shoes . . . to the production of the atomic bomb.' He died in 1952, but just three years ago his private memoirs were published. In those memoirs Judge Patterson wrote:
'The will of the nation is the final determinant of policy. The leaders of our armed forces cannot secure our safety unless the nation wills it to be safe. Unfortunately, up to the time of Pearl Harbor, our will was divided and uncertain. We had to constantly compromise between what technically we knew we needed and what it seemed likely the nation would grant us. Those compromises came close to being disastrous.' (p. 217)
'[t]he breath-taking display of power with which we closed hostilities in Europe must not allow us to forget that we had a terribly close call at the start. Nor can we afford to forget that it took nearly five years from the moment when danger threatened until we reached the pinnacle of our strength in the field. Destiny was generous of time, more generous than we deserved. We cannot count on such generosity again.' (p. 204)
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a solemn duty. It’s not abstract. It directly involves life and death. It directly involves our nation’s security. As we go about our business today, I am confident that we will keep that solemn duty to the men and women who serve and to our nation foremost in our minds."