Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey. We very much appreciate your testimony today and your service on behalf of our nation.
Just two short months ago, Congress voted to pass the Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act to set the budget authorization levels for Fiscal Year 2014 and for the coming year. This has not stopped any number of members, on both sides of the aisle, from condemning the recently released President’s budget request that meets the caps required by that law. The President apparently felt that he should comply with the law he just signed. Members have pointed out that reducing the budget will likely result in increased risk in executing the nation’s defense strategy, and they are probably right in making that judgment.
The solution to this dilemma is reasonably simple: we, Congress and the President, must sit down together and come up with a way to reform entitlements and provide for tax increases to bring our budget more into balance and provide for the resources we need to run the government and fund defense. In the absence of such a deal, however, we are left trying to bring the budget more into balance by only cutting the discretionary budget. Defense makes up about half of the discretionary budget. If members don’t like the cuts in the defense budget, and they are not willing to engage in coming up with a larger budget deal, it is incumbent on those members to show where the money would come from to increase the defense budget.
The President, to his credit, has proposed an additional fund this year, totaling about $26 Billion, to address some of the readiness shortfalls caused by sequestration that were imposed on the Department of Defense last year. The President has also proposed offsets that would fully fund that $26 Billion fund. Many of my colleagues won’t like those offsets, but this makes my point: if we are going to provide the resources we need to fund the defense budget we seem to want, we’re all going to have to compromise somewhere and do something each of us doesn’t much like, whether increasing taxes or cutting the growth of entitlements.
If, however, we are not going to make that grand bargain, and if we are not going to accept the offsets for the $26 Billion fund, we need to face the reality that we are still going to have to make hard choices if we want to avoid a hollow force. The Department’s budget before us today asks us to make some of those hard choices. They are asking for base closure authority, reductions in force structure, retirement of some weapon systems, compensation reform, and acquisition reform. All of those will be unpopular with some, or many, members. None of this will be easy, but until we figure out another way, we have the top line we have, and members of this committee are going to have to choose between politically unpopular actions or underfunding the readiness of the United States military.
Yesterday, General Mattis, the former commander of Central Command and someone all of us greatly respect, noted that eventually the force we fund here will have to fight. His comment, which I urge all members to take to heart, is that the military we build with the funding choices we make here will be “audited by war.” If we duck hard choices in this committee, we will force cuts in readiness, and that means that no matter the size of the force, it will not be properly trained and prepared to fight. We owe our nation, and those we would send into harm’s way, better.
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I yield back.