Sessions Delivers Opening Statement At Hearing On Defense Spending And Sequestration

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on the impact of sequestration on the nation’s defense:

“Thank you, Chairman Murray. I join you in welcoming our distinguished panel to discuss the impact of sequestration on national security.

In August of 2011, Congress and the Administration came to an agreement that $2.1 trillion needed to be cut from our projected growth in spending, and I believe we must stick to that. Under the agreement, spending would increase from the then-level of $37 billion over 10 years to $45 billion over 10 years, rather than a projected growth to $47 trillion. Why, then, is there so much intense turmoil about this issue?

First, it is important to realize that spending on national defense is not the root cause of our financial difficulties. Secondly, the Department of Defense has already contributed to the nation’s deficit reduction efforts by cutting its proposed spending by nearly $500 billion to accommodate the initial round of Budget Control Act caps.

So now, even before one considers the impact of sequestration, we have defense spending that is lower as a share of the budget—and as a share of the economy—than it has been in the past. It is continuing to go lower. As a share of the federal budget, just 17 percent of federal spending will go to defense this year. Just 50 years ago, defense spending made up 46 percent of all federal spending. As a share of the economy, spending on defense will average 3 percent over the next 10 years, which is down from the post-World War II average of 7 percent. By FY 2023, the last year of the President’s budget, defense spending as a percent of GDP will hit a post-WWII low of 2.4 percent.

Now, defense spending, which is already on the decline and makes up only 1/6th of the budget, is being required to take another $500 billion in cuts due to the BCA’s sequestration. And this drawdown is not occurring in an era of peace and stability but at a time that General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said is “actually more dangerous than the era we’re just leaving.”

In FY 2013, we saw $40 billion in across-the-board cuts to national security spending, $37 billion of which came out of the Department of Defense. As a result, our troops and the men and women of DoD’s civilian workforce are paying the price. The uniformed leadership of our military have expressed dire consequences on training and readiness that are arising from these reductions. General John F. Campbell, Army Vice Chief of Staff, said this: “The reality is that if sequestration continues as it is… the Army simply will not have the resources to support the current defense strategic guidance, and we risk becoming a hollow force.” Others have made similar comments.

As for the civilian workforce, we are all aware of the budget pains they are personally feeling, as over 650,000 have received furlough notices, taking away 11 days of work from July until the end of the fiscal year. These men and women, who are critical partners for the troops, deserve better.

After two consecutive budget submissions from this Administration with no credible plan to turn off sequestration, we are headed on a dangerous path of an additional $52 billion cut in FY 2014 and similar cuts in subsequent years to the Department of Defense’s budget. These reductions, which Secretary of Defense Hagel has said would reduce “the size, readiness and technological superiority of our military,” need to be reexamined.

As we move forward, let’s work together to stave off this unwise level of cuts to defense spending. It is important that we hold to the reasonable reductions in the rate of spending growth as set forth in the Budget Control Act, however. Congress should modify the mechanism to ensure shared sacrifices. Too many agencies were not required to tighten their belts at all. They were allowed to continue to grow without restraint.

It is time for the Commander-in-Chief to provide certainty in the defense budget and explain the dangers of these large defense cuts. It is also time to examine the large protected programs that have outpaced DoD spending many times over. Food stamps have increased four-fold since 2001, from $20 billion to $80 billion. Medicaid has increased at a rate nearly twice DoD increases in recent years. Yet those programs and others were not required to even minutely control their rate of growth. It is time to adopt a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

I thank the panel for their appearance today and look forward to this important discussion.”