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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act Of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise today to speak on an amendment I have introduced--with a dozen cosponsors to require the Secretary of Defense to provide to Congress a detailed report by August 15, 2012, on the impacts on national security of the automatic budget cuts, also known as sequestration. These cuts will be imposed upon the Defense Department 6 months from now unless Congress acts.

My amendment makes no changes to the Budget Control Act and should be non-controversial. It simply requires the Secretary of Defense to detail for us the implications of these cuts so that we may consider legislative options. My colleagues are well aware of how budget sequestration became the law of the land, of the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, and of the enforcement mechanism of automatic cuts. But none of us fully understand the specific consequences of the across-the-board spending reductions should they be triggered on January 2, 2013.

We know from statements and testimony from the Secretary of Defense and high-ranking DOD and military officials that the impact of sequestration on the Department of Defense would be disastrous. I need not remind my colleagues that one of government's foundational responsibilities is to defend the Nation. Our constituents entrust us to do so. Allowing budget sequestration to occur in the Department of Defense would dramatically increase risk to our national security and undermine our ability to protect our interests at home and abroad.

I agree that our current fiscal climate demands that we reduce annual deficits and pay down the massive Federal debt. I also recognize that the demands placed on our Armed Forces are beginning to diminish at least insofar as current operations in Afghanistan are concerned. The administration and the Congress have acknowledged as much, reducing war funding by almost half since 2011. The President's withdrawal plan for Afghanistan will reduce that funding need even further. In addition, the President has already put in place a plan to cut the defense budget by $487 billion over the next 9 years.

I have reluctantly supported these planned cuts in the interest of deficit reduction, and we have scrutinized their impact on the Armed Forces. Many of my colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee joined me in expressing concerns to the Secretary of Defense about significant troop reductions in the Army and Marine Corps, major program curtailments, and proposed base closures.

Army Chief of Staff GEN Odierno told us that his service could perform its mission with 80,000 fewer troops. Commandant of the Marine Corps General Amos echoed those sentiments when describing his plan to reduce by 20,000 marines. My point is that the Department of Defense has already undertaken major budget reductions which will impact our forces for a decade or longer. While I do not agree with every reduction proposed by the administration, I acknowledge that we all need to tighten our belts and that the Defense Department is not sacrosanct.

It is in the context of the nearly $ 1/2 trillion of reductions that have already been levied against the Defense Department that we should consider the impact of additional automatic budget cuts. Budget sequestration would cancel an additional $ 1/2 trillion from the defense budget and would do so in a thoroughly arbitrary and destructive way. It is one thing for the Department to make planned reductions to troops, equipment, training, and operations, and to keep these reductions synchronized; it is quite another to apply an across-the-board percentage reduction to every defense program. The law does not provide flexibility; it dictates that budget sequestration must be applied in equal percentages to each ``program, project, and activity.'' That means equal percentage cuts in every research project, weapons program, and military construction project. Assuming military personnel accounts are exempted, we understand that cut to be about 14 percent. A 14-percent cut in a military construction project would render it unexecutable. How can you buy 86 percent of a building or 86 percent of an aircraft carrier? This is the danger of sequestration. The law mandates that cuts be taken equally across every budget line. It is absolutely senseless and will have enormous primary and secondary effects.

As an example, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of contracts for services and equipment will have to be renegotiated. Contracts with specific delivery quantities will have to be rewritten to reduce the quantities, which will increase the cost per unit to the government. More likely, management decisions will be taken out of the hands of managers and put into the hands of lawyers, as companies sue the government for breach of contract and termination costs. Legal proceedings could stretch out over years, at enormous expense to the taxpayer. ``Savings'' from budget sequestration would be consumed by the cost of implementing it. Maybe we should think of sequester as an earmark for lawyers.

Beyond the cost of implementing a dysfunctional system for budget cutting, the impact of sequestration on the capability of the Armed Forces would needlessly increase risk to national security. I am very concerned about the recent decision by

the administration to apply sequestration to accounts supporting our military operations in Afghanistan. In November 2011, I was assured by the Secretary of Defense that this account would not directly be affected. Now, the Department is conceding that funds we are using to defeat our enemies and to build a secure and self-sufficient Afghanistan will be subject to immediate reductions. Despite this potentially grave risk to our military forces engaged in combat, the Department cannot tell me with any assurance to what extent our deployed forces will be affected. We must have a detailed assessment of the impact of these mandatory cuts to the support of our forces engaged in hostilities on behalf of our Nation.

We know that the President has decided to exempt veterans programs from budget sequestration but to include war funding under sequester. This demonstrates that the administration is actively deliberating the implementation of the Budget Control Act, which makes it all the more surprising that the President is reluctant to provide even a preliminary estimate of the impact of sequestration. If the President is making decisions regarding sequestration, why not reveal the impacts to Congress and the public?

The leaders of the Department of Defense have consistently stated that threats to the national security of the United States have increased, not decreased. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that these automatic reductions would ``inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations.''

General Odierno testified that sequestration would force the Army to cut an additional 100,000 troops, half of which would come from the Guard and Reserve on top of the 80,000 soldiers already planned to be separated from service. General Odierno stated that the damaging effects of sequestration would force the Army to ``fundamentally re-look [at] how we do national security.''

The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Greenert, testified that the Navy fleet would shrink from 285 ships to 230 to 235 ships, well below the 313 ships the Navy has said it requires. The Navy will be forced to absorb a cut equivalent to the entire annual shipbuilding budget. According to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, ``The force that comes out of sequestration is not the force that can support the current [defense] strategy.''

Chief of Staff of the Air Force GEN Schwartz testified that sequestration ``would slash all of our investment accounts, including our top priority modernization program such as the KC-46 tanker, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft, and the future long-range strike bomber.''

We would be left with a much more expensive, much less capable national defense program.

The irony in all this is that defense spending is not the reason we are in a fiscal mess. The United States spends about 20 percent of its annual budget on national defense. Since one of the principal responsibilities of government is to protect the Nation, I consider this amount to be quite modest. The real driver of our national debt is mandatory spending, which consumes 58 percent of the annual budget and is projected by the Office of Management and Budget to be over 62 percent by 2017--growth of almost a percentage point per year. However, under budget sequestration, half of the total amount of cuts would be levied from defense and the other half from all other government programs. Let me repeat that. Defense is 20 percent of the budget but will take 50 percent of the cuts. It simply doesn't make sense.

In addition, these cuts will impact jobs in the defense industry as well as countless counties and towns around the country at a time when millions of Americans are still seeking employment. I appreciate the work of my friend Senator Ayotte to bring this issue of industrial and economic impact to the forefront.

We must receive a clear assessment from the Department on the extent of the risk to our military operations in Afghanistan, to our military programs, and to readiness here at home if the automatic cuts are allowed to occur. Only when we have a clear picture of the impact of current law will we be able to consider alternatives to sequestration that reduce the deficit but do not imperil our Nation's security.

Some have suggested that the Congress wait until after the election to address possible alternatives to sequestration. Mr. President, we all know that nothing good happens in a lameduck session. We cannot wait for an election to muster the courage to make difficult budget decisions. This amendment to the farm bill is meant to inform the debate about the perils we face if we do not take action.

I thank my colleague from Washington, and I yield the floor.


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