Sessions Delivers Remarks At Hearing With Secretary Of Defense, Confronts Common Myths On Defense Spending
“I fear… that these budget hearings may not be a good use of your time. The Senate Democrat leadership is refusing, for the third straight year, to bring a budget plan to floor. Has the Senate Democrat majority forgotten the warning of Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who told us the debt is the greatest threat to our national security? … But the president has submitted a budget plan that will continue the unsustainable course and increase our gross federal debt by another 75 percent over the next ten years—from about $15 trillion today to $26 trillion in 2022…
“I believe it is essential that Washington engage in fact-based budgeting. Every department, every agency, every part of government will have to experience reductions—including defense. But these decisions should be guided by an honest assessment of the facts. And the fact is that the only thing the president seems willing to significantly cut is defense.”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered an opening statement today at a Committee hearing with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to examine the president’s FY 2013 defense budget request.
Sessions’ remarks, as prepared, follow:
“Secretary Panetta and Gen. Dempsey, we are honored to have you with us today. America is blessed with the greatest military the world has ever seen. We must ensure it remains so. I know you are honored to lead such a magnificent force. Defense is a core function of government and the continued dominance of our military deters threats and encourages peace.
I fear, however, that these budget hearings may not be a good use of your time. The Senate Democrat leadership is refusing, for the third straight year, to bring a budget plan to floor. Has the Senate Democrat majority forgotten the warning of Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who told us the debt is the greatest threat to our national security? How will we be able to defend this country when we’re broke?
America leads the western world in per-person government debt. At $44,000 dollars for every man, woman, and child, America’s per capita government debt is worse than Greece. But the president has submitted a budget plan that will continue the unsustainable course and increase our gross federal debt by another 75 percent over the next ten years—from about $15 trillion today to $26 trillion in 2022.
The president’s budget also raises taxes by $2 trillion—not to reduce the deficit, but to pay for a $1.6 trillion spending increase above the currently projected growth in spending. In other words, he is spending $1.6 trillion more than the levels we agreed to in the August debt deal only months ago.
Almost as shocking is the administration’s unwillingness to tell the truth about our situation to the country. I sent a letter to the president’s budget chief, Jeffrey Zeints, asking him once again whether their budget plan increases spending relative to current law. I received a response last night that once again refused to answer this simple question. If the Administration thinks they can sweep this under the rug, they are wrong.
Congress and the White House committed to $2.1 trillion in spending reductions—about a 3 percent reduction in expected growth over the next ten years—resulting in $45.5 trillion in spending through 2022. This is the new ceiling on how much we can spend and the starting point for much-needed reductions. Now, after just a few months, the president is proposing to abandon even those small cuts.
This doesn’t mean we should not reorganize where the initial $2.1 trillion cut falls. Under the Budget Control Act, defense spending—1/6 of the budget—will experience a 20 percent reduction in real dollars over 10 years. Non-defense spending—the other 5/6 of the budget—will experience a 50 percent real-dollar increase over the same time.
So it is critical that we reorganize the Budget Control Act sequester. But we must not reduce the size of total cut we promised the country—thereby increasing spending over the modest reduction that was agreed to. Instead, we should be taking thoughtful actions to place this nation on a sound fiscal path.
The first step in the process is to dispense with some common myths regarding the defense budget:
MYTH ONE: Defense spending is near an all-time high. The truth: During the War on Terror, it’s averaged about 4 percent of GDP, around half of the post-WWII average. Fifty years ago, national defense made up 48 percent of the budget, while entitlement spending accounted for 26 percent. Next year, entitlements will account for 60 percent and defense will amount to 19 percent of the overall budget.
MYTH TWO: We can balance our budget with steep cuts at the Pentagon. The truth: Over time, entitlement obligations will consume an ever-larger share of federal spending. In 2030, entitlement obligations will be as much as six times greater than defense spending, rising from there. Even eliminating defense in its entirety would not come close to balancing the budget.
MYTH THREE: Defense spending has seen the fastest growth in our budget. The truth: While the Pentagon’s base budget has increased 10 percent since 2008 (3 years), non-defense discretionary spending increased 24 percent—not counting the stimulus—during just the first 2 years of the Obama presidency. Over the last three years, Medicaid has increased 37 percent. Spending at the Department of Education grew 70 percent over 2009–2011 compared to the previous three years. Food stamps have seen a 300 percent increase since 2001.
MYTH FOUR: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been leading contributors to our deficit. The truth: While the War on Terror has imposed substantial costs, this year’s deficit alone—$1.3 trillion—equals the entire cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. War spending represents only 4 percent of total government outlays over the last ten years.
I share these numbers because I believe it is essential that Washington engage in fact-based budgeting. Every department, every agency, every part of government will have to experience reductions—including defense. But these decisions should be guided by an honest assessment of the facts. And the fact is that the only thing the president seems willing to significantly cut is defense. The rest of the budget will continue to surge wildly out of control. By the year 2030, nearly every penny of revenue the government receives will go to entitlement spending and interest payments.
We should chart a different course: control the growth of government, empower the private sector, and maintain a strong, cost-effective, national defense. If we do this, we will create millions of good-paying jobs, reduce surging health care and energy costs, and pass a better future on to our children.”
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