U.S. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, spoke on the House floor on Tuesday as it considered the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act.
Excerpts from his remarks:
“For the Department of Defense, and for any agency, the lack of predictable appropriations is a major obstacle to the planning and execution of programs. I am cautiously optimistic that the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, which provided relief from the Budget Control Act (BCA), will provide a pathway for completing the FY 2019 bills in a somewhat timely manner. The members of the Committee, particularly the Chair and Ranking Member, are doing their best to get our work done.
“Unfortunately, the next two fiscal years present daunting obstacles that make it even more important to complete our FY 2019 work as soon as possible. Most obvious is the return of the BCA caps in FY 2020, which if left unchanged, will require the Department’s base funding for FY 2020 to be reduced by $71 billion from the level provided in this bill. A reduction of that magnitude would cause unfathomable disruption. Inexplicably, multiple Congresses have managed to alleviate the BCA caps for seven of its eight years, but only after significant and protracted political theater. I know that senior leaders in the Pentagon are not taking chances and have begun to identify programs to cut in FY 2020 that will carry the least associated risk for the warfighter. I prefer to have those senior leaders focused on proactive matters, rather than running another BCA budget drill. The sooner Congress bellies up to the bar and provides a fifth round of statutory relief for the last two years of the BCA, the better.
“Additionally, senior military leaders have testified that arresting the erosion of our military’s competitive advantage requires real budget growth of at least 3 percent above inflation through 2023 and that increasing that competitive advantage would require even higher growth. I agree with the assessment that we need to make smart investments in our military, but I do not believe a growth rate of that magnitude is sustainable. Unless we act responsibly on the revenue side of the budget and address entitlements in a meaningful fashion, the money will not be there.
“And while we are on the floor today debating the funding bill for DoD, we also must consider that maintaining our competitive advantage in defense also requires other investments that we do not immediately equate with military matters. As only 29 percent of Americans aged 17-24 qualify for military service, investments in our youth, difficult-to-retain populations, education, and public health are equally important. Since fiscal year 2016, the annual funding level for the Department of Defense has risen by $100 billion. To put in context, that $100 billion increase is larger than the annual budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Transportation. It is greater than the combined annual budgets of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Interior. To fully invest in the strength of our national security, we must also make necessary investments in our people and our communities.
“Finally, I remain concerned that while we have seen plenty of long-awaited, long-term planning and strategy documents generated by the Pentagon and the White House over the last 500 days, the bulk of our ongoing military operations continue to be authorized by legislation from 17 years ago. There have been four Presidential elections and eight Congressional elections since the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). I am disappointed that the Rules Committee did not make in order any amendments on the AUMF. It is a shame that this Congress cannot muster the will to even debate this incredibly important issue.”