Visclosky Opening Statement from the House Floor Consideration of the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act
Washington, DC – Below is the opening statement of Congressman Pete Visclosky from the House floor consideration of the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act, as prepared for delivery.
Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume and ask unanimous consent that my full remarks be entered into the record.
I would like to start by expressing my tremendous appreciation for how Chairwoman Granger has conducted the business of the Defense Subcommittee. The Chairwoman’s abiding priority remains the safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of every man and woman in uniform. Additionally, she has taken a thoughtful and bipartisan approach to our work and is a fierce defender of the oversight responsibilities and constitutional prerogative of the Congress.
I also would like to express my gratitude to Chairman Frelinghuysen, Ranking Member Lowey, and the other Members of the Subcommittee for their efforts. And this legislation would not happen without the incredibly skilled staff involved, including the clerks Jennifer Miller and Rebecca Leggieri, as well as Walter Hearne, Brooke Boyer, BG Wright, Allison Deters, Collin Lee, Matthew Bower, Jackie Ripke, Hayden Milberg, Bill Adkins, Sherry Young, Barry Walker, Jennifer Chartrand, and Chris Bigelow. In the personal offices, Johnnie Kaberle, Jonathan Fay, Joe DeVooght, and Christie Cunningham, have also provided invaluable assistance.
I would be remiss if I did not use a portion of my time to recognize that this is likely the last time I am on the floor debating the Defense bill with my good friend, Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen. He is a consummate gentleman, decent to his core, a tireless advocate for the people he represents, and always working for the best interests of our nation and those wearing its uniform. He will be sorely missed and this body will be lesser without him.
With regards to the matter before us, I would like to begin by calling attention to an issue of great importance to me – the full integration of women in the military. Female servicemembers are invaluable to the defense of our nation. For the majority of the time they have been allowed in the military, women have had to assimilate into a culture established by men, for men. This is not the best way to maximize the effectiveness of our armed services.
While I appreciate the opening of combat career fields to women and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) emerging efforts to ensure that combat equipment is designed and fitted for female servicemembers, I would submit that these are immediate-term solutions.
Put bluntly, the rate at which women leave the service is a detriment to readiness. Some of the reasons for their departures are glaringly obvious and will be difficult to overcome because they will require cultural and significant policy changes. I am pleased that the House Armed Services Committee, in their FY 2019 authorization bill, has taken a step to establish a female retention baseline and develop ways to improve female retention. Initiatives like these will help the Appropriations Committee to better focus funding where it can be most effective and improve overall readiness.
Specific to H.R. 6157, the Chairwoman has provided an accurate summary, but there are a few areas I would like to highlight. This bill increases funding by almost $200 million above the budget request for several important environmental clean-up accounts. The Subcommittee, under Chairwoman Granger and previously under Chairman Frelinghuysen, has been proactive on emerging environmental issues, including those caused by firefighting chemicals. Those living on and near military facilities, and everyone throughout our country for that matter, should not have to worry about access to clean drinking water.
Oversight of the management and expenditure of the $674 billion that is provided to the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community is a core function of the Defense Subcommittee. As such, this bill contains several cuts to accounts that have large unobligated balances or have under executed. The funds generated by those cuts have been reinvested in programs and initiatives that provide more benefit to the warfighter. Unlike the recently debated and much ballyhooed rescissions bill, these are actions of real substance that will benefit the taxpayer.
Further, I believe good oversight is fostered by the constructive and informed dialogue between the Committee and the agencies. Oversight cannot be effective when proposals are presented at the last minute with the intention of forcing a decision. Oversight cannot be effective when complex changes to a program are first communicated to the Legislative Branch through the media. I have great respect for the Service Secretaries and Chiefs, but there needs to be an improvement in the timeliness and quality of communication. The Committee report to accompany this bill contains several sections encouraging the Department, as a whole, and with a special focus on the Army, to adhere to Congressional direction, increase transparency for budget exhibits, and improve the quality and timeliness of communication.
And speaking of timeliness, Congress has its own issues to deal with. Particularly the inability to enact Appropriations bills anywhere close to the start of the fiscal year (FY). 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 three 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.
I again thank the Chairwoman for her great effort and partnership. I look forward to the debate.
Thank you Mr. Chairman and I reserve the balance of my time.