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Hearing of the House Budget Committee - "Budgeting for America's National Security"


Location: Washington, DC

Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, made opening remarks at the House Budget Committee hearing, "Budgeting for America's National Security." Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

"I would like to thank the Chairman for holding this hearing. I requested a couple of months ago that we hold a hearing on Pentagon spending and tax expenditures and I welcome this opportunity today. I would also like to join you in welcoming our witnesses. Mr. Mosher, Senator Talent, and Dr. Adams, thank you for coming today to share your views and analysis on the Pentagon's budget and budgeting for our national security in general.

"The Congressional Budget Office just released a new updated report on the Pentagon's current plans that concludes historical cost growth will continue to put upward pressure on the budget at a time of large deficits. This report is very timely. As Republicans and Democrats come together to work out a plan to get deficits and debt under control, we must get a better understanding of all the elements of the budget that continue to put pressure on the budget's bottom line and what options we should explore to get the most out of every tax dollar spent.

"There is no higher priority than providing for the security of our country. We all want a strong military that is second to none, but during this difficult fiscal period we have to be much smarter and efficient in how we go about providing for one. The economy -- the source of our ability to provide for a strong security apparatus -- is at risk because of large deficits and rising debt. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned policy makers of this growing risk when he stated, "Our national debt is our biggest national security threat.'

"Over the last decade, the "base' Pentagon budget has nearly doubled, and spending at the Pentagon is now at its highest level since World War II. The U.S. currently outspends the world's second largest military -- China -- by a factor of seven to one (roughly $700 billion to $100 billion). And from 2001 to 2010, security spending (including funding for the Pentagon, State Department, VA, and Department of Homeland Security), excluding emergencies and war costs, grew on average 1.5 percent more per year than non-security spending.

"Over the last decade the Pentagon was able to avoid making difficult choices because of this permissive funding environment. This isn't my opinion; it is the opinion of the highest ranking officer in our military. Admiral Mullen said, "…with the increasing defense budget, which is almost double, it hasn't forced us to make the hard trades. It hasn't forced us to prioritize. It hasn't forced us to do the analysis.'

"We can no longer afford to spend taxpayer resources without ensuring every dollar is efficiently and effectively invested. There is now bipartisan consensus that all spending, including spending at the Pentagon, must be on the table as we figure out how to get our finances back on track. Many Republicans have expressed their support for reviewing defense spending to find savings, including Governor Haley Barbour, former Majority Leader of the House Dick Army, and Former-Senator and three-term Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Pete Domenici.

"Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bill Young also made the case that defense cannot be excluded from this debate when they brought a defense appropriations bill to the House floor that, while still increasing defense funding over this year's level, contained $9 billion in cuts below the President's February budget request for 2012.

"Others have proposed far deeper cuts to security spending. The President's Fiscal Commission, co-chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Former-Senator Alan Simpson, proposed more than $1 trillion in cuts to security programs over ten years, including illustrative examples of how to save up to $100 billion per year at the Pentagon, as part of a balanced plan to tame deficits. A majority of Commissioners voted to approve that plan by a vote of 11 to 7.

"Even in this committee, where agreement is hard to come by, the notion that all spending, including spending at the Pentagon, needs to be on the table was agreed to by a majority of its members this spring. The Committee voted to include "Sense of the House' language to that effect in the 2012 budget resolution.

"So, where do we look for savings? While we should examine all aspects of the Pentagon budget, the very first item to examine should be inefficiencies and wasteful practices. After years of trying, DoD still can't pass a standard audit. It doesn't keep track of the number of service contractors it has even though it spends roughly $200 billion per year on such contracts. Major weapons acquisition programs have experienced hundreds of billions in cost overruns in recent years; the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently estimated cost growth of these weapons systems totaling $300 billion. GAO has identified a number of persistent high-risk management areas at the Department that need improving. There are also seemingly endless stories of abusive contracting practices. The most recent example is one uncovered by a government report showing that Boeing overcharged DoD for a number of spare parts it was providing. One spare part was marked up 177,000 percent above its cost.

"Last Friday, Leon Panetta was sworn in as Secretary of Defense, someone who is well-prepared to deal with our fiscal challenges because of his vast security and budget experience. He released a message on Friday saying that a choice between fiscal discipline and a strong national defense is a false choice. I believe he is correct. We can make both the tough decisions to put spending at the Pentagon on a more affordable path and still maintain a military that is second to none.

"Chairman Ryan, thank you for holding this hearing on the security budget. The defense budget alone makes up approximately one fifth of the entire Federal budget and more than half of all discretionary spending. It is important that we exercise as much oversight as we can over such a large piece of the budget.

"Again, I thank our witnesses for coming today and I look forward to hearing their testimony."

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