Visclosky Opening Statement from the House Appropriations Committee Consideration of the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Appropriations Act
Washington, DC – Below is the opening statement of Congressman Pete Visclosky from today’s House Appropriations Committee consideration of the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Appropriations Act, as prepared for delivery.
Chairwoman Granger, congratulations on bringing your first Defense Appropriations Bill before the Committee. You have taken the helm of the subcommittee in an exceptionally difficult year and I deeply appreciate your steadfast commitment to maintaining its tradition of cooperative bipartisanship, transparency, and taking a thoughtful approach to solving problems.
Also, I would like to express my gratitude to Chairman Frelinghuysen, Ranking Member Lowey, Members of the Subcommittee, and the staff. It was just seven weeks ago that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act was enacted and only five weeks since we received the FY 2018 President’s Budget Request. It has taken a superhuman effort by all those involved to get the FY 2018 Defense Appropriations Act to markup in such a tremendously abbreviated timeline.
The Chairwoman has provided a detailed and accurate summary of the bill and report in her opening remarks. I agree with her that the legislation as written has the potential to fill many of the military’s readiness gaps and maintain the strategic technological advantage we enjoy today. Further, I am in lockstep with her, and I am confident all of my colleagues on this Committee are also in agreement, that we have a duty to provide predictable and timely appropriations to the Department of Defense and the rest of the federal government. That’s not just us speaking as Appropriators, but that is a consistent request from our senior defense leaders.
Unfortunately, at this moment, I am not optimistic about the chances of this bill’s independent enactment in a timely fashion.
Most prominent of the obstacles facing this legislation is the Budget Control Act of 2011, more commonly referred to as the BCA. I cannot miss an opportunity to point out that I did not vote for the BCA, but it remains the law. The bill we are considering today greatly exceeds the cap on defense spending established under the BCA for FY 2018. So much so, that if enacted as written, and the BCA caps remain in place, the Department of Defense would face a sequester of roughly 13 percent. The Department has still not recovered from the rash of problems caused by the last time it was forced to deal with sequestration in 2013 and the repair of those problems has been one of the prime focuses of the Chairwoman. Just to refresh everyone’s memory, the Department savaged its Operations and Maintenance accounts in the second half of FY 2013 to continue ongoing contingency operations and to protect Military Personnel accounts. This resulted in the Navy idling an aircraft carrier at a pier in Norfolk, the Army cancelling training rotations, the Air Force greatly reducing flight times for its combat coded aircraft, and widespread civilian furloughs. We simply cannot allow that to happen in FY 2018.
We have avoided sequestration in the four most recent fiscal years by adjusting the BCA caps to make additional investments in defense and nondefense appropriations. Those modest adjustments, done in a bipartisan and bicameral fashion, provided needed funding for our men and women in uniform, but also for our country’s economic and physical infrastructure, scientific research, public health system, and veterans care. The current FY 2018 budget reportedly proposed by the House Majority, while vastly superior to the nonsensical document put forth by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in May, exceeds the BCA cap by $70 billion for defense spending and is $5 billion under the cap for nondefense, ignoring these past compromises. If past is prologue, after this bill passes the House, it will sit idle until mid-September, when we begin the tortured process of short term continuing resolutions, shutdown brinksmanship, possibly an increase in the BCA caps, and then, maybe an Omnibus. This is the very outcome the Secretary of Defense stated he did not want to happen.
I hope my predicted path for this bill and those that invest in the human and physical capital of this nation is overly pessimistic and that a consensus will be reached prior to the end of the fiscal year, allowing us to break free from this cycle of uncertainty. Ideally, Congress will enact a full repeal of the act as part of a larger bipartisan effort to address the budgetary issues facing the federal government in its entirety – entitlements and taxes included. If the first six years of the BCA have demonstrated anything, it is that arbitrary caps on discretionary spending, which represents less than one-sixth of the federal budget equation, have had a negligible impact on deficits, inhibited needed long-term investment in our nation, and wasted more through the contortions, delays, and uncertainty it has created.
Further, complicating the Committee’s work is that top-line funding levels for this bill were still under negotiations as of last Friday. For the second year in a row, the development of the Defense Appropriations bill was upset by last minute circumstances created by other Committees. It is a wonder that the Chairwoman, Members, and our incomparable staff were able to assemble a bill and report under these conditions.
Setting aside my frustration with the process, I also wish to express my concern with the significant increase in funding that this bill would provide to DoD – $60 billion more than FY 2017 and $29 billion more than the Department even requested. I support providing additional funding to the Department, as I believe we are asking too much of our brave servicemembers and their families. Also, to put it mildly, the world is a very unsettled place and not trending towards stability. That being said, I believe that the Department will have difficulty spending so many additional dollars in a timely, efficient, and transparent manner. Vacancies in important leadership positions within the Department, and hiring restrictions on civilian employees will slow the decision making process. Currently, the Department is in the midst of four comprehensive strategic reviews, including: the National Defense Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review, the Afghanistan Strategy Review, and the Counter-ISIS Plan. Each is ongoing and their impact on spending during FY 2018 is unknown. Finally, it is not likely that Congress will complete our work in a timely manner and that any dollars provided will have to be spent in a compressed timeline, much like the current year.
Given these concerns, I especially appreciate Chairwoman Granger’s cooperation in including bill and report language in the Manager’s Amendment in order to meet our constitutional oversight responsibility and require transparency into the Defense Restoration Funds. These Funds account for $18.6 billion in the base bill and $10 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations accounts. The added restrictions strengthen our ability to oversee the Department’s actions. I cannot stress enough how important it is for this Committee to exercise rigorous and effective oversight for every dollar it provides, including those for the Department of Defense. We are a coequal branch and as we struggle to right our fiscal ship, oversight is more important than ever.
In closing, I would like to again reiterate my thanks to Members and staff that logged the long hard hours required to put this product together. As we move forward in the FY 2018 process along, I look forward to continuing to work with Chairwoman Granger and the members of the Committee to complete our work.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman for the time.