This week, the Senate debated its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which covers spending and policies for the U.S. military. As part of the debate, Georgia Senator David Perdue addressed the Senate about the relationship between the national debt and the ability of the country to defend itself.
The House passed its version of the NDAA back in May. The two versions will need to be reconciled before the bill becomes law. You can read the text of Senator Perdue’s address below the fold.
There are only six reasons why 13 colonies got together in the first place, and one of those six was to provide for the national defense. That’s what we’ve been talking about this week.
As we debate the National Defense Authorization Act, I want to add a different perspective to this debate.
Today, the world is the most dangerous it’s been in my lifetime. We are in the midst of a global security crisis.
We have major threats facing our country: we see the rise of aggression from traditional rivals—Russia and China, we have the rise of ISIS and networks around the world spreading terrorism, we see the proliferation of nuclear capability among rogue nations North Korea and Iran.
Then, we see hybrid warfare that’s being perpetrated today and—what we are not talking about –the growing arms race in space.
All of this adds to a very dangerous world and puts people, right here in the United States, in danger.
As we face increasing threats—at the very time when we need our military to be stronger—we are disinvesting in our military.
Over the last 30 years or so, we’ve had three Democratic presidents. All have disinvested in the military for different reasons.
First, we had President Carter, then we had President Clinton, and now, we have President Obama. They disinvested in the military to a point where we are spending about 3% of GDP on our military. That’s about 6 billion dollars.
The 30-year average of military spending is 4.1% of GDP. That would mean a difference of $200 billion from where we are now.
What I’m concerned about is as we sit here facing these additional threats today, we now have the smallest Army since WWII, the smallest Navy since WWI and the smallest and oldest Air Force ever.
The administration’s current plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), is to continue to disinvest in our military—taking defense spending down to 2.6% of GDP in the next 10 years.
This is a dangerous new low that we cannot allow to happen.
As we look at the overall defense spending authorization levels in this NDAA bill, we’re falling short of where we need to be based on the threats that we face.
Don’t just take my word for it. Secretary Bob Gates’ defense budget in 2011 was the last proposal before sequestration took place. That was the last defense budget based on an actual assessment of the threats, not arbitrary limitations.
The Gates budget estimate for the last fiscal year, FY 16, was $615 billion, or roughly $646 billion in constant dollars.
Now, as for 2017 our topline is estimated right now of what we’re trying to get approved at $602 billion.
That is a far cry from what Secretary Gates called for based on threats—before the rise of ISIS, before the Benghazi attacks on our embassy, before Russia seized Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, and before China started building islands in the South China Sea.
How did we get here?
Today, we’ve got an absolute financial catastrophe. We’re borrowing about 30% of what we spend as the federal government.
It’s projected over the next 10 years, we again will borrow about 30% of what we spend.
My argument has been that we can no longer be just debt hawks. We have to also be defense hawks. Those two can no longer be mutually exclusive.
In order to solve the global security crisis, I believe we have to solve our own financial debt crisis.
We all know we have $19 trillion in debt and this is set to reach $30 trillion in the next decade unless we do something about it.
Right now, the problem is not discretionary spending. The major problem is in our mandatory spending: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, pension benefits for federal employees, and the interest on our debt.
We’ve basically been living in an artificial world, as interest rates have basically been zero.
Our debt has made it impossible to fund our national defense, but also to set the right priorities.
To deal with the global security crisis, we need to be honest about what our military needs. That gets difficult sometimes.
Today, we have national security priorities that aren’t getting properly funded and yet we know we’re spending money inefficiently.
First of all, we have missions that we aren’t able to maintain. Take a look at our Marine Expeditionary Units, the MEUs, around the world.
Because of defense cuts, there aren’t enough amphibious ships for the Marines to have what’s known as a theater reserve force, also known as a MEU.
As a result, for missions like crisis response and embassy protection in Africa, we now have a Special Purpose MAGTF covering this task, based on the ground in Moron, Spain.
The best, and I mean the very best of America, is in uniform around the world. Taking caring of our interests, protecting our interests, and our freedom here at home.
Even this force is seeing a cut in their fleet sizes which ultimately cuts down their ability to respond and increases risk.
Another example is the recap program for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), the number 4 acquisition priority for the Air Force, and a critical provider of ISR, ground targeting, and battlefield command and control to all branches of our military in almost every region of the world.
As the old fleet is reaching the end of its service life, we going to have to have a new fleet come online quickly.
The problem is, we’re seeing a projected seven year gap where that capability will no longer be available in full force for the people that need it the most—the people on the ground in harm’s way.
We’re not able to fund the military at the force size we need either.
As a result, we’re putting greater pressure on personnel and burning up our troops. They spend more time on rotations overseas and not enough time with their families at home and it’s causing problems. It’s causing turnover.
And the forces that we have aren’t getting the training they need. For example, two-thirds of Army units are only training at the squad and platoon levels, not in full combat formations, and we have Air Force pilots leaving the service because they’ve cut back so dramatically on training flights.
These examples highlight why we need to scrutinize every dollar we spend on defense, so we can ensure these dollars go to our critical requirements of protecting our men and women around the world.
To that end, we need to improve fiscal accountability at the DOD and to highlight the needs we’re currently not fulfilling.
Our Department of Defense has never been audited. Even today, we cannot dictate to the DOD that they provide an audit.
Their answer is that they’re too big and it’s too complicated, too difficult to do.
Can you imagine Walmart calling the SEC and saying, ‘sorry, we’re not going to comply with your requirements. We’re not going to send in our audit?’
I also think we should withhold funds until a plan is put in place that allows the Pentagon to keep track of its military equipment. It’s been 13 years since this tracking policy was established, yet they still aren’t in compliance.
This is all about responsibly funding our military. The women and men in uniform who are on the front lines deserve that.
Finally, to address a critical need discussed earlier—JSTARS—Senator Isakson and I have been working to get the replacement fleet ready to go sooner to eliminate this gap.
I am committed to ensuring we have what we need to support our servicemen and women. These efforts will help make the Pentagon accountable and focus funds on critical priorities.
This debate is all about setting the right priorities, not just in the military, but also with other domestic programs and mandatory expenditures.
This debate is all about setting the right priorities to make sure that we can do what the Constitution calls us to do: provide for the national defense.
The national debt crisis and our global security crisis are interlocked inextricably. We are not going to solve the dilemma of providing for national defense until we solve this national debt crisis.
Our servicemen and women and our combatant commanders don’t have—and will not have—the training, equipment, and preparation they need to fulfill their missions and face growing threats.
It’s time that Washington faces up to the crisis.
This is not just about the NDAA, this is about the defense of our country and the future of our very way of life.
We simply have to come to grips with this NDAA, pass it, and make sure we find a way to address this debt crisis so that every year going forward we don’t have this drama of finding a way to fund our military and protect our country.
We simply have to come to grips and set the right priorities required to defend our country.