U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Budget Committees, today discussed the impact of sequestration and continued budget uncertainty on Virginia and the nation's military readiness during a hearing with General James N. Mattis, Commander of U.S. Central Command, and Admiral William H. McRaven, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. The hearing follows Kaine's visit to the Pentagon yesterday to meet with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Chief of Staff of the Army Ray Odierno, and employees of the Department of Defense.
"The message I came away with loud and clear is certainly something you've underlined today -- the need to provide some certainty so that you can do the best with the resources you have," said Kaine. "I think the optimal situation would be for the national security situation to drive our budget. A distant second would be our budget strategy to drive our national security strategy. But we are at a distant third where our budget indecision is driving national security decisions and that is very dangerous."
Kaine opened by noting the detrimental effects of sequester and a lack of predictable funding for the Department of Defense for service members who risk their lives each day for the security of the nation. Kaine continues to urge the passage of full appropriations bills for the rest of Fiscal Year 2013, and the passage of a Fiscal Year 2014 budget to allow agencies and departments across the government to plan.
"You are risk tolerators. You run to risk," Kaine said to the General Mattis and Admiral McRaven. "The risk that you shouldn't have to tolerate is a wavering political commitment or political indecision in terms of providing you the backup that you need."
Budget uncertainty has tangibly affected Virginia with the delayed deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman, including the more than 5,000 sailors aboard, and delayed ship repair and construction in Hampton Roads. Additionally, Kaine has visited other military installations across the Commonwealth to hear how budget gimmickry has jeopardized training for members of all branches of the Armed Services and the National Guard.
During his questioning of the witnesses, Kaine asked General Mattis and Admiral McRaven about the increased pressures of an increased operations tempo after a decade at war on the special forces, many of whom are based in Virginia, and the National Guard forces who have been relied upon to maintain an all-volunteer military. Kaine noted when he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 2001, the National Guard operated as a reserve force but twelve years later, the Guard has more operational experience, training and scar tissue than it used to as a reserve force. "It's a very different kind of a guard force than it was ten or eleven years ago," Kaine said.
General Mattis acknowledged the difference in the Guard force and maintained the Department of Defense must keep a balance between relying on guard members as an operational reserve while still allowing them to fulfill their professional and personal civilian obligations. Admiral McRaven also detailed the work Special Operations Command has completed to study the impact through a task force of an increased tempo on special forces and their families noting that the force has frayed over time and "continued to fray." Since the study, McRaven noted they are continuing to increase support for special forces service members and their families.
In Washington, Kaine continues to engage with top officials from the Department of Defense on the impacts of sequester and budget uncertainty. Kaine supports a balanced deficit reduction plan to replace the sequester cuts that would consist of targeted revenue increases and specific strategic spending cuts. Kaine voted for a balanced proposal that would have eliminated the across the board cuts and replaced them with a package of half revenue, and half spending reductions, while putting the country back on track for an orderly budget process. The measure earned a support of 51 senators but fell short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.