Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Barney Frank
Date: July 19, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I strongly support the effort by my colleague from California.

I would say to the distinguished chairman of the subcommittee that it's certainly the case that, once the society through which democratic processes has determined what it wants to do in a military area, then we need the technical advice from the military experts. But there is a prior question with regard to Afghanistan: Should we be staying there?

It wasn't up to the military--and they never claimed that it was--to go in on their own. They went in pursuant to a vote of this House and of the Senate. It is the duty of the Members of this House to decide whether, in taking all of the factors into account, the time has come to wind it down or not. Once a decision is made, then we listen to the military.

Clearly, what is at stake here in this amendment is not simply a technical question of the way in which the logistics of a drawdown are handled but, really, whether or not the House wants to affirm that the time has come to begin a steady withdrawal. I might also add I would like to go more quickly than this amendment would allow, but we probably won't have the votes for that.

I disagree with the notion that this is a matter on which the elected representatives of the American people must defer to military experts. Yes, we will once we have made the democratic decision about what to do. But with all of the factors taken into account, the time has come, just as this House authorized the military to go in, to reaffirm the decision that the time has come to begin to withdraw. So I very much support the gentleman's amendment in that particular context.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I am very pleased to join my colleague from South Carolina in an effort to make a small reduction in the Appropriations Committee's recommendation. Our colleague from New Jersey is right, the Constitution gives this power to the Congress, not to the Appropriations Committee, to the entire Congress.

The cuts that are being talked about consist, in the numbers--that I have seen in light of the chairman of the Armed Services Committee--are entirely due to the fact that we have had a drawdown of the troops in Iraq. Now I shouldn't stop at the fact that we did reduce the money we're spending in Iraq, because that's the problem with this budget. Yes, we have threats. The problem with this budget is it is dealing with the current threats, and it's dealing with past threats. This budget fully funds a capacity to win a thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. I do not think that's a significant threat today.

This continues the commitment made courageously by Harry Truman in a bipartisan way to defend Western and Central Europe against Stalin and his hordes because we went into Europe 65 years ago when the Communists were menacing and the European nations were weak, and we said we will protect you. We are still doing that. They're not weak, and they're not threatened; but we are still protecting them.

Look at the budgets as a percentage of gross domestic product from all of those wealthy nations in Western Europe. They are less than half of ours.

On the other hand, the French are now contemplating reducing the retirement age for certain people who worked a certain amount of years, the official retirement age, from 62 to 60, while we're being told we may have to raise ours. How come the French can do that? Very simple: we've picked up their tab.

Yes, there are problems with China, there are problems with Iran, there are problems with North Korea. Tens of thousands of troops in Western Europe have got nothing to do with that. Yes, we should have a nuclear capacity and the submarines and the airplanes are important, but we've got three ways to destroy the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, and it's replaced by a much weaker Russia.

Couldn't we say to the Pentagon--and I know there is a great reluctance here to appear to be anything but totally deferential to them--couldn't we say to them, you've got three ways to win a thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. Could you pick two and save much less than this $1 billion.

There is also the question of the culture. The general response of this Agency when an agency is inefficient is to crack down. When the Pentagon is inefficient, the money keeps going.

I am told there are cuts. It was my understanding this budget, the base budget, leaving aside the war in Iraq, which has wound down, is larger than it's ever been. No, these are cuts from what the Pentagon was supposed to have.

Let's understand also this has now become a zero-sum game. Unless you are prepared to ignore the deficit problem, every dollar you put into the Pentagon over and above what I believe is needed is coming from somewhere.

I don't know how Members can go to people who are on Medicare and explain to them that there are going to be these cutbacks, or to tell people on Social Security who have been doing physical labor all of their lives not to work another year or two, and then put money in the Defense budget that is not necessary.

We are told that, well, we have to be able to protect ourselves. Against whom do we need it all?

One of the things, we are told we need more ships because we have got to protect the shipping lanes between here and China. These are, of course, shipping lanes on which the Chinese make an enormous amount of money.

The notion that the Chinese plan to shut down the shipping lanes, which are the basis for their enormous surplus of trade with America, seems to me somewhat skeptical; but we still have a greater defense than the Chinese. I noted that the Chinese recently launched an aircraft carrier, their first one. They bought it, I believe, from the Ukraine and outfitted it with model airplanes so they can learn how to do it. Now, I don't deny that there are some threats there.

The question is not whether or not we should be the strongest Nation in the world. Of course we should be, and we are. The question is by how many multiples do we need to be stronger than any combination of enemies.

My only reluctance on this amendment is I'm embarrassed by the fact that it's only a billion, but I think the gentleman from South Carolina made a correct decision. Members will have their choices. If there is any seriousness about deficit reduction across the board in this House, this amendment will pass.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I submit for the Record a June 28 article from The Hill:

But U.S. dominance in every dimension of military power is clear. In recent years we have been building ``strategic depth'' into this dominance without regard to its costs--to our Treasury and to our other priorities. A responsible rollback of our military budget is achievable with no sacrifice to our security.

The author is Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State, and he was special assistant to Colin Powell when General Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So, yes, there were times when I think: let's take some advice from some military experts.

[From The Hill, June 28, 2012]

The Executive Viewpoint--Time To Bite the Bullet

(By Lawrence Wilkerson)

Though the U.S. budget process has been going through the motions in 2012, the real action will take place at the end of the year, when several budget overhaul strategies will converge. Around town, the train wreck metaphor is getting the most use to describe what will happen. But whatever does happen, it is certain that large cuts are coming.

Those cuts come as three wars--Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war on terror--are driving national security spending to levels not seen since World War II. Since these wars have been paid for by borrowing, they have contributed mightily to our budget deficit and diverted resources from other investments in our domestic strength.

It is time for a responsible build-down of the post-9/11 build-up. But an extraordinary feature of the dysfunctional policies of Washington is the strenuous expenditure of time and money devoted to ensuring this doesn't happen. Most of this intensity has focused on exempting the military budget from the coming sequestration of funds mandated by current law. This is unwise, because the military--or better said, the national security account--can and should contribute to our getting our fiscal house in order. In fact, we could cut our national security budget by a trillion dollars over the next decade without jeopardizing our security. Moreover, we could rebalance that budget as we cut and actually enhance our security.

The national security budget includes the Intelligence, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security agencies, as well as bureaus dealing with international affairs and nuclear weapons issues (mostly in the Department of Energy) and, of course, the Pentagon. Last year the total was about $1.2 trillion. The huge component in that budget is the Pentagon, at more than 50 percent of the total spending. So that is where everyone concentrates what he or she wants to cut, keep or increase. That's where most of the rhetoric is expended, too.

But this view is myopic.

National security is composed as much of good intelligence and competent diplomacy as it is of bombs, bullets and bayonets; indeed, one hopes more so. Thus, looking at the national security budget as a whole, with all its components, demonstrates clearly that it is out of balance. Too much money is going to the iron and steel part of the budget and too little to the velvet glove.

That's the first problem that needs correcting, the balance. The second is the Pentagon. As the largest item by far in the discretionary budget. not to mention in the security budget, Pentagon spending has the largest influence over the reducing/rebalancing equation.

The United States began the new millennium with a string of military budget increases, paid for by borrowing, that swelled the deficit while bringing us to the highest levels of Pentagon spending since World War II. Our current military expenditures account for more than half of the world's total. We spend as much as the next 17 countries put together, most of them our allies. And we spend more in real terms now than we did on average when we did have a formidable adversary--the Soviet Union--that was spending about as much as we were and arguably constituted an existential threat to America. No such threat exists today, nor can we see a comparable one in the future, China's rise notwithstanding.

Guaranteeing perfect security is impossible. But U.S. dominance in every dimension of military power is clear. In recent years we have been building ``strategic depth'' into this dominance without regard to its costs--to our treasury and to our other priorities. A responsible rollback of our military budget is achievable with no sacrifice to our security.

The specifics of this judicious rollback are contained in the Unified Security Budget (USB) published by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for American Progress, a budget I helped compile. Not only does this USB cut a trillion dollars over 10 years, it rebalances the budget so that the steel and the glove are in better proportions.

It is time for wise men and women to put partisanship aside, ignore the siren calls of defense contractors, stop taking counsel of their fears and get down to business with the national security budget. No aspect of the federal budget should be exempt from helping the nation get its fiscal act together. This soldier of 31 years knows that national security--including the Pentagon--can join this effort with no danger to the republic.

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