Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09), made the following opening statement at today’s hearing on The Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’d like to join you in welcoming Secretary Hagel to the House Armed Services Committee—I am sure this won’t be his last appearance here. General Dempsey, thank you as always for your help as well.
“Secretary Hagel, General Dempsey, we find ourselves in difficult times. The list of ongoing global challenges, from continuing the fight against al Qaeda to the war in Afghanistan to confronting Iran’s nuclear program to the situation in North Korea, to name a few, is more than daunting. And yet, at the same time we deal with those current scenarios, we are challenged to prepare for a future that is potentially even more uncertain as we deal with the outcomes of the Arab Spring and implement a strategic rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately for all of us, the current budget fights are making your jobs of preparing the U.S. military for these challenges even harder.
“The President’s budget proposal represents a responsible attempt to forge a grand bargain on the budget. The President proposed an “all of the above” deficit reduction strategy, dealing with revenues, entitlements, and discretionary spending, including defense spending, to deal with our fiscal problems. As a member who, with many others around here, has long supported a comprehensive, balanced approach, I am pleased that the President adopted this course of action. Everyone here, I am sure, hopes that a budget deal can be reached, eliminating the damaging effects of sequestration on critical national interests and, especially in the context of today’s hearing, national security.
“Some on this committee have attacked the President’s proposal to reduce the defense budget by roughly $119 billion between fiscal years 2017 and 2023. As we discuss potential solutions to our budgetary problems, it is important to keep a few things in mind. First, the proposed defense spending reductions would be far less painful than what the department would absorb under sequestration. The President’s budget would allow future Congresses and Administrations to determine where the cuts come from and how they would be implemented, rather than deal with indiscriminate cuts through sequestration. Moreover, the proposed $119 billion is roughly a quarter of the amount that would be sequestered from the defense budget through fiscal year 2021. Many on this committee voted for the Budget Control Act, which created sequestration, and this committee must play an active role in removing the indiscriminate cuts.
“Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey will, I am sure, highlight the damage to the Department of Defense caused by sequestration this year. News reports about this damage have become common in recent days, from carriers we can’t deploy to telling a significant portion of the Air Force to just “stop flying”. We need to be perfectly clear with ourselves and the American people—standing down these capabilities causes real damage to our readiness and will cost more to recreate in the future than they will save in the short term. We owe it to our brave men and women in uniform, our civilian government workers, the American people, and ourselves to fix sequestration this year and reach a budget agreement.
“While I hope we can reach an agreement that provides stability for the U.S. budget in the future and in particular the defense budget, I don’t think we can fool ourselves that the overall defense budget is going up. Under any scenario, we are not going to be spending as much on defense as was planned two or three years ago. While some members of this committee like to talk about defense strategies unconstrained by resources, that option is off the table—the Budget Control Act, which many on this committee voted for, capped resources. Our challenge now is to make those hard choices, in strategy, in support costs, in shared sacrifices, that allows us to live within our means.
“I congratulate our two witnesses, Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey, for grasping this essential fact and ordering the Strategic Choices and Management Review to see how we can continue to implement last year’s Defense Strategic Guidance in the face of future budget concerns or what changes to that guidance might be required. For Congress’s part, I hope that we will seriously consider DOD proposals for budget reform however painful they may seem.
“We can no longer pretend that we don’t have to make hard choices in the defense budget. But I am concerned we are going to have to go even further to save enough money and position ourselves for the future—we in Congress, in conjunction with our witnesses here, should be considering how to reduce bureaucracy, how to further reform acquisition processes, and where we can rethink our overseas posture and stop spending on legacy programs that provide little useful capability at high costs. We have gotten used to nearly unlimited resources to fight the wars of the last ten years, but that time is over. Funding cuts are painful, but they also provide the opportunity for us to set up the Department of Defense and the military for the future and to bring some rationality to the defense budget.
“I look forward to working with the two witnesses here today, and with the other members of this Committee, on exactly these issues in the coming years.
“Thank you again Mr. Chairman, I yield back my time.”