Visclosky Opening Statement from the House Consideration of the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Appropriations Act
Washington, DC – Below is the opening statement of Congressman Pete Visclosky from today’s House consideration of the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Appropriations Act, as prepared for delivery.
I thank the Ranking Member for yielding me time.
Chairwoman Granger, congratulations on bringing your first Defense Appropriations Bill to the House Floor. 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 immense gratitude to Chairman Frelinghuysen, Ranking Member Lowey, Members of the Subcommittee, and the staff. On the Subcommittee, the clerks Jennifer Miller and Rebecca Leggieri, Walter Hearne, Brooke Boyer, BG Wright, Adrienne Ramsay, Allison Deters, Megan Milam, Cornell Teague, Collin Lee, Matthew Boyer, Sherry Young, Jennifer Chartrand, and Chris Bigelow. In the personal offices, Johnnie Kaberle, Jason Schenck, Joe DeVooght, and Adam Kahnke.
We have a duty to provide predictable and timely appropriations to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the rest of the federal government. That’s not just me speaking as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. That is a consistent request from our senior defense leaders.
However, the House bills exceed the cap on Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 defense spending, established under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), by $72.5 billion. 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. In the second half of FY 2013 the Department savaged its Operations and Maintenance accounts 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 reducing flight times for its combat aircraft, and widespread civilian furloughs. We simply cannot allow that to happen again in FY 2018.
We have avoided sequestration in the last four fiscal years by adjusting the BCA caps for both defense and nondefense appropriations. Those modest adjustments, done in a bipartisan and bicameral fashion, provided needed funding for our military, but also for our country’s economic and physical infrastructure, scientific research, public health system, and veterans care. 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.
Besides my frustration with the process, I have concerns with the significant increase in funding that this bill would provide to DoD – $60 billion more than FY 2017 and $29 billion more than 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, hiring restrictions on civilian employees, and a handful of ongoing strategic reviews will all slow the decision making process. Finally, it is unlikely that Congress will complete its work in a timely manner and that any dollars provided will have to be spent in a compressed period of time.
To further my transparency concerns, I am not convinced the current Administration evaluates dollars being spent on the military with the same criteria as it does the rest of the federal government. In the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Major Savings and Reform document for FY 2018 – a page-turner with 150 proposals to allegedly save billions in discretionary programs – there was only one recommendation for the Department of Defense that had the potential to save $2 billion annually by 2027. With a budget of roughly $600 billion a year, representing nearly half of discretionary spending, it is beyond the pale that OMB could only come up with a single proposal for savings at DoD.
One final point is that I am highly disappointed that the Republican leadership in the House watered down the language that was added during the Committee markup regarding the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Rep. Barbara Lee’s language would have established an eminently reasonable approach to update the 2001 AUMF. Congress must stop hiding from this debate and carry out its constitutional responsibilities.
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. I look forward to the debate on amendments.
I thank the Ranking Member for yielding.