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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, I come to the floor, along with my colleagues, Senators McCain and Ayotte, to talk about the significant uncertainty surrounding sequestration and its threat to our national security.

The triggered reduction in spending is $1.2 trillion. After accounting for 18 percent in debt service savings, the required reductions amount to $984 billion to be distributed evenly over a 9-year period or $109.3 billion per year. So what we are talking about is $54.7 billion in reductions will be necessary in both the defense and nondefense categories, despite the fact--despite the fact--defense funding constitutes just 20 percent of the budget.

As my colleagues Senators McCain and Ayotte are well aware, this sequester disproportionately impacts defense spending, putting our national security at risk.

It has been almost a full year since the Budget Control Act was passed, and Congress needs a precise understanding from this administration as to the full effects of sequestration on national security funding. Both Senator McCain and I, along with Senators Sessions, Ayotte, and others, have called on the administration to detail the impact of sequestration on defense accounts.

This information is necessary for Congress to address the deep and unbalanced defense budget cuts that are expected under sequestration--which are in addition, I might add, to the $487 billion in reductions that were carried out last August.

What little information has been made available from the administration about the planned cuts to defense should give all of us pause about our Nation's security if sequestration proceeds without any modifications.

In a letter to Senators McCain and Graham this past November, Secretary Panetta said that over the long term, sequestration means we will have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest fleet of ships since 1915, and the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.

If sequestration were to go into effect, we risk turning back the clock on our military strength to where it was during the early 20th Century, before World War II. That clearly cannot be allowed to happen if we hope to have a future in which we are secure, prosperous, and at peace in the world.

I wish to turn now to my colleague Senator McCain, who is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. He has been a leader in calling attention to this cloud of sequestration cuts looming over the Defense Department and its threat to our national security. He is, obviously, one of the foremost experts in the Senate when it comes to the issue of national security, and someone who has been raising the issue of sequestration and its impact to our national security interest for some time.

I would ask Senator McCain if he might comment on his observations with regard to this issue and its impact on national security.


Mr. THUNE. I would say to my colleague, the Senator from New Hampshire--because she mentioned that she and I both serve on the Budget Committee--that this perhaps could have been avoided had we passed a budget that dealt with title reform.

The reason we have these huge cuts, these steep and unbalanced cuts to the defense budget, is because we punted on the Budget Control Act to the supercommittee, which didn't produce a result, and this triggered these across-the-board reductions in spending--half of which come out of the defense budget, as the Senator mentioned, a defense budget that represents only 20 percent of Federal spending. So proportionality here seems to be a real issue. Why would you gut the part of a budget from which you get the resources to keep your country safe and secure?

Frankly, it comes back--in my view, at least--to the fact that now, for 3 consecutive years, the Budget Committee, on which the Senator and I both serve, has failed to produce a budget, spelling out a more reasonable and thoughtful plan for how to deal with these challenges as opposed to having this budget axe fall in this disproportionate way on our national security interests.

I am curious as to the Senator's thoughts with regard to the reason why we are where we are today.


Mr. THUNE. Ironically, the point my colleague from New Hampshire made earlier and the statements made by the President's own Defense Secretary about what these cuts would mean just speak volumes. It is absolutely stunning when we look at the impact this would have on our national security budget, and, at least to date, the President is not weighing in on this argument at all.

I think what the Senator from New Hampshire and Senator McCain and I are saying is this: Show us your plan.

If we are going to do something about this, we need to know how they intend to implement this. So the transparency issue is very important. Asking them to tell us how they are planning on making these reductions seems to be a critically important part of not only informing the American public but giving Congress a pathway--if there is one--to address and perhaps redistribute these reductions.

When we are talking about a $109 billion reduction that will take effect in January of next year--half of which comes out of defense--on top of $ 1/2 trillion in cuts to accrue over the next decade that were approved as part of the Budget Control Act, that is a huge chunk out of our national security budget.

I think the Senator from New Hampshire made an excellent point as well about how this obviously impacts national security first and foremost. I have always maintained that if we don't get national security right to protect and defend the country, then the rest is all secondary.

But there is a huge economic impact, as was pointed out not only by the study my colleague from New Hampshire mentioned but also by the Congressional Budget Office recently in speaking about the fiscal cliff that hits us in the first part of January next year and could cost us 1.3 percent in growth, which, according to the President's economic advisers, could be 1.3 million jobs. If the national security issue does not get your attention, certainly we would think the economy and jobs issue would. Yet we are hearing silence--crickets coming out of the White House.

I would hope he would weigh in on this debate and at least provide us with an idea of how the administration intends to implement this and hopefully a plan about how to avert this. As has been emphasized by the President's Defense Secretary, there would be a catastrophic impact on our national security interest.


Mr. THUNE. Mr. President, again I appreciate the leadership of the Senator from New Hampshire as a member of the Armed Services Committee on not only this issue of national security but also as a member of the Budget Committee, where we serve together. It is critical that we do something soon, and the reason for that, as the Senator from New Hampshire mentioned, is that a lameduck session of Congress--is not an appropriate time to try to legislate on a major issue such as this, particularly given the fact that there is going to be a pileup of other issues. We have tax rate expiration issues to deal with and potentially another debt limit vote coming up.

It seems to me that we ought to provide as much certainty as we can to our military, to the leaders of our military who have to make these decisions, and to the people who build these weapons systems and experience many of these reductions that will impact jobs.

As my colleague mentioned, there is a Warren Act requirement that they notify people if they are going to lay off people. There has to be a lead time to this, and that is why getting a plan from the administration that lays out in specific and detailed terms exactly what they intend to do with regard to sequestration is really important to this process and as a matter of fundamental transparency for the American people and for the Congress.

Clearly, there is a need--in my view, at least--for us to deal with this in advance of the election, not waiting, not punting, and not kicking the can down the road as is so often done here.

I appreciate the leadership of the Senator from Arizona, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, and my colleague from New Hampshire in raising and elevating this issue and putting it on the radar screen of the Senate in hopes that something might actually happen before the election. But that will require that the President of the United States and his administration get in the game. So far, we haven't heard anything from them with regard to how they would implement sequestration or what suggestions they might have that would avoid and avert what would be a national security catastrophe if these planned or at least proposed reductions go into effect at the first of next year.

I see that the Senator from Arizona, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, is back. Does the Senator have any closing comment before we wrap up this session?

Well, let me thank my colleagues in the Senate and particularly the Senator from Arizona and the Senator from New Hampshire for what they are doing on this issue. I hope that we are successful and that in the end we can get some greater transparency from the administration about how they intend to implement these reductions and that we might be able to take the steps that are necessary, as was pointed out, on a bipartisan basis. This is not an issue that affects one side or the other, it is an issue that affects the entire country when we are talking about our national security interests and the great jeopardy and risk we put them in if we don't take steps to address this issue.

I yield the floor.


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