Visclosky Opening Remarks at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Hearing on the Department of Defense Budget for Fiscal Year 2017
Washington, DC – Below are the opening remarks of Congressman Pete Visclosky from today’s House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing on the Department of Defense budget for Fiscal Year 2017, as prepared for delivery.
Thank you very much, Chairman Frelinghuysen. I appreciate you holding this hearing and look forward to working with you to craft the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Defense Bill.
Secretary Carter, General Dunford, and Under Secretary McCord, welcome to today’s hearing. I thank each of you for your commitment to our military service members, their families, and the civilian personnel under your command. Your testimony and insight are vitally important to the Committee’s deliberations as it carries out its role in providing funding for the defense of our country.
I wish to express my continued concern regarding the self-inflicted uncertainty created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). Admittedly, I used much of my time at the Fiscal Year 2016 version of this hearing for a similar purpose, and although much has changed in the last 12 months, including the enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA) that mitigated the BCA caps for two-years, it is hard to argue that the Department of Defense, or any federal agency for that matter, is now appreciably better positioned to plan or budget for the future.
It pains me to think about how much less efficient the Department of Defense has been over the last six fiscal years, as it has been forced to carry out our National Defense Strategy in an increasingly unstable security environment, all while navigating the unpredictability of sequestration, a government shutdown, vacillating budget caps, continuing resolutions, and appropriations that arrive well into the fiscal year. Even the least clairvoyant among us can foresee the problems looming in Fiscal Year 2018 and beyond when the BCA caps return. And though it is conceivable we will see additional short term relief of the sequester caps in Fiscal Year 2018, until the BCA ends in Fiscal Year 2021, just think about how much more time will be wasted in that process.
The BCA was sold as a deficit reduction tool, yet the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that the Fiscal Year 2016 deficit will be $105 billion higher than the deficit recorded in the prior fiscal year. More troubling, in the same report CBO projected that from 2016-2025, the cumulative deficit will be $1.5 trillion more than the office projected in August 2015. The prolonged inability of Congress and the Administration to find the consensus needed to replace the disdained BCA and its faux austerity with policies that truly address the long term drivers of our budget deficits – growth in mandatory spending and lack of revenue – is truly an abject failure.
On a more positive note, despite the ongoing efforts in Congress to renegotiate the agreed to Fiscal Year 2017 caps on the base DoD budget and Overseas Contingency Operations accounts, I am guardedly optimistic that the BBA will provide some predictability to this year’s appropriations process. We have a number and I hope that this Subcommittee will be allowed to make the difficult and deliberate decisions needed to prioritize the resources available to strengthen our defense posture and minimize the risk to our nation and those in uniform. Hopefully, events outside the Committee’s control, such as elections or a vacancy in another branch of the government, do not get in the way of completing our work.
Secretary Carter, you have stated that this budget is a major inflection point for the Department and takes the long view. Further, you have indicated that the request favors innovation and readiness posture over force structure. I was pleased to hear both those sentiments, but based on the outcomes of the last handful of budget requests, I am skeptical of any strategy, plan, or program that is reliant on relief from the BCA caps in future years. I completely understand the motivations behind DoD’s decision to assume more funding in the out-years. However, I worry if that assumption does not come to fruition, some of the modernization programs planned for in this budget, which came at the expense of procuring fewer weapon systems, will not be sustainable across the Future Years Defense Plan.
I assure you that I am committed to working with my colleagues to find a lasting solution to our fiscal situation, which necessitates addressing both revenue and mandatory spending, because I firmly believe that is the only pathway to ensure our military is properly resourced this year and for the foreseeable future.
Finally, I appreciate that the much-anticipated plan for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was transmitted to Congress earlier this week, but I am disappointed in its limited scope. I firmly believe that the political and legal expediency that led to the establishment of the detention facility has been dwarfed by its cost to America’s reputation around the world and has ultimately been a rallying cry for extremists. I hope the plan is considered on its merits, rather than it being reflexively rejected.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding the hearing and I look forward to your testimony.