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Sequestration: The Destruction of the United States Military

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CARTER. I thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we have got a lot of hard work to do in about the next 3 months around this place. I want to talk tonight about a process that we have brought upon ourselves so that now we are faced with what, I think, could be one of the greatest catastrophes in the modern history of the United States--and that is almost the complete destruction of our military through a process called ``sequester.''

We use a lot of big words around this House, and half of the people who sit in this room on a daily basis don't even know what it means, to be honest with you, but they know what the process does: across-the-board cuts at every level of government. The reality of these cuts is that, at least in the current makeup of our government and with so many of our expenses in this government being mandatory spending and what we call ``entitlements,'' the lion's share automatically falls upon the military, on the Defense Department.

Even more critical to this particular agreement, which was made in the earlier part of this year when we had one of our many shutdown-the-government risks that have come upon this body in the last couple of years, the White House with the President, along with the majority leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, met to discuss how to keep from having a shutdown of the government and how to raise the debt ceiling so we could continue to operate this government. With everyone recognizing that there was a looming crisis from having spent more than we make for as long as we can remember, quite honestly, and, therefore, that we are now in a problem of debt which is drowning this Nation and the Members of this body wanting to address that, the discussion was about how we would do it.

They came up with a concept of a supercommittee. Most of you who keep up with current events know that we formed a supercommittee, the purpose of which was to come up with the cuts from the appropriate parts of this government so that we would reduce the spending of over $1 trillion, thus starting ourselves down the road to fiscal responsibility. This is what we set out to do. It was an honest effort, let's be frank. It was an honest effort. Everybody, whether elected to do it or not, recognized that this was the issue that was before us. The question was how to do this, and they came up with this supercommittee.

They agreed that, if the supercommittee failed, then the process of sequester would replace the actions of the supercommittee. There will be a political debate that will go back and forth as to who killed the effort in the supercommittee; but wherever the fault may lie, the supercommittee failed. Those of us who were in this House asked about the sequester and looked at it and worried about it as the vote came up as to whether or not this was the right thing to do. We then asked the question of the leaders here, which I'm sure was asked on both sides of the aisle: So what happens if the supercommittee doesn't perform?

We were told sequester, which was the worst possible thing to happen to this House, and I think both sides of the aisle agreed with that. But don't worry, it has never happened. It never will happen. We will do the right thing.

The committee failed.

It is almost August. Quite honestly, the number of legislative days left before the election can almost be counted on these two hands, and we haven't addressed how we are going to do this; but the folks who may most be affected have no choice but to address it.

The agreement that came out of the meeting between the President and the Congress was that roughly half the $1.1 trillion number, I believe it is, would come out of the Defense Department and that the other half would come out of domestic spending. Well, the Defense Department being the Defense Department--and it cannot function without planning--is already planning what it would have to do in case this occurs.

We talk in big ideas and issues around here, but the reality is this: this is about a bunch of people who chose the profession for their lives, that of defending our Nation.

We should never forget that the ordinary soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and Coast Guardsman volunteered to join their branch of the service, most of them, as their profession. This is not the old drafted military of World War II or the Korean war or the Vietnam war or the Cold War. This is a volunteer military. This is a young man or woman saying: I choose the job of fighting for my country. This is what I choose to do with my life. I will earn my way. I will earn my promotions by being a good warrior.

My wife and I, when we first learned that we were going to have the honor of representing what we call a great place, Fort Hood in Texas, we wanted to meet with soldiers, and the place we could find them to meet with us around Thanksgiving time was in Korea. We went and met with Fort Hood soldiers in Korea. Most of them were from Texas at our table where they were talking to us, and I asked a question. I was new to getting to talk to the ordinary soldier. These were just ordinary soldiers. There may have been a couple of sergeants there, but most of them were not highly ranked.

I said, How long are you guys and gals going to be in Korea? They said, Oh, 3 months, 6 months, whatever the time period was. I said, What do you want to do next in the Army? They responded, We want to go to Afghanistan or Iraq. This is back in '04. From someone of my age who has the memory of the draft Army, that was a shocking answer: We want to go from this place in Korea to the place where the war is, and we would like to go directly there. These were 19-year-old kids, kids like my son coaches in football and baseball back home. These were kids that could have been the same kids that played on the team the year before who were sitting there at the table telling us they wanted to go to war.

I was kind of taken aback by that answer. It was unanimous, by the way. There were eight people around the table that were all unanimous: we want to go to war. Then this young tow-headed 19-year-old soldier said, Sir, that's what we are. We're trained warriors. That's what we do for a living. We fight wars. We want to go where our country needs us. We want to go to war. Not because we like war, but because we are professional soldiers. We do this for a living.

This is the mindset that goes back in history a long ways. Some of the greatest armies in the world had that mindset, that this was the job they chose for their life. Now, because we have not been willing to live within a budget in the United States--we're all at fault, every one of us. The people in this House, both sides of the aisle, we're all at fault. We spend more than we make, and we wonder why in the world it doesn't work. How many people sit at home and look at their household budgets and say, My gosh, we're spending more than we make. No wonder it doesn't work. That's like the law of gravity. It's a natural thing that you can't spend more than you make and not ultimately be in trouble, even when you can take it out of other people's pockets like the government.

Now we are faced with a crisis, and we're talking about a solution for that crisis that's going to fall on the back of that 19-year-old kid that talked to me in Korea because his goal in life was to rise in the ranks by being a good soldier. As a good soldier, if he did a good job, he would be promoted and he would rise in rank. Maybe in his heart his goal was to some day be a command sergeant major of one of the commands in the Army, kind of the pinnacle of the career of an ordinary soldier. Because we spend too much and can't agree on how to cut it and we're going to have to go to automatic cuts, that young man's job is at risk. The President says he's going to protect the jobs of the soldiers. I hope what he means he's not going to fire anybody. Although one of the papers that I was reading an article in it said he's not going to cut the pay of the soldiers.

I happen to be blessed. One of the things that I'm very proud of in this body is I am a cochair of the Army Caucus here in the Congress, and I've heard the generals talk about what sequester means to the Army. It means cuts of 100,000 to 180,000 soldiers. That means that kid that I talked to in Korea, who's probably now done three tours in Afghanistan or Iraq, who has done a good job, fought for his country, performed in an excellent manner, has been promoted, he's in the beginning of the middle of his career, and because we can't agree on how to reduce our runaway spending, that kid is going to lose his job.

He will not only lose his job, but he's going to lose his career. He chose our United States Army partially out of the job he wanted to do, but in a great many cases out of patriotism for this country. He didn't sign on to be in somebody else's Army. He signed on to be in our Army. He's done everything right; and yet because we can't control our spending, that young man and those young men and women at that table could lose their careers that they chose for their lives, careers to be proud of as Americans. There are young people willing to do this for our country.

When we talk these big numbers and throw around big words, we've got to remember it affects human beings. We've got some charts here I want to show you so you get some idea of what we're talking about. Where is the spending? This is entitlements. The spending is at $26.1 trillion. Nondefense spending is at $11.3 trillion. Defense spending at $3.6 trillion. That's where the spending is in our country today.

Let's look at what we propose to do as a solution under sequester. From entitlements we're taking $171 billion out of $26.1 trillion. From nondefense spending, we're taking $322 billion out of $11.37 trillion. Over here in defense we're taking $422 billion, the highest of any of these numbers, out of $3.6 trillion. This is about a 42 percent cut. This is out of whack.

What's this out of whack going to do to our military? Let's start off with what we're talking about right now in the country. We're talking about our economy, we're talking about getting ourselves out of this slump we're in and putting Americans back to work. Does anybody think it's a good idea to create a program that loses American jobs? To me, I just can't fathom it. But according to CNN, 1 million jobs will be lost under sequester. That's not military jobs. That's the people who provide goods and services either directly for the military or sell it to the military.

And here is something else that's pretty frightening. As we look down the road at this sequester program, the law that was created by the Congress and which was signed into law says, if we anticipate the loss in an industry of jobs based upon the actions of this body, they have to pass out pink slips 60 days before that might happen and in some cases 90 days.

Well, the drop-dead date on sequester is January 2 of next year. So if we do nothing by January 2, we are going to have these across-the-board cuts. We are going to have 1 million people get pink slips in either October or November. Now, is that going to raise the enthusiasm for growing our economy in America? It is absolutely as destructive as it could be.

We have a responsibility to try to do something about this, and we can't keep kicking cans down the road in this body. If we do, one of these days, we are going to get a broken foot, and already there seems to be a brick in the can.

This is serious stuff. We've got real people's lives being affected in the military. We've got real people's jobs being affected in the defense industry. These are people who go to work, just like everybody else in this country. Somehow we hear the words ``defense industry,'' and we assume some kind of fat cats. Go over to one of the defense industries and see the machinists and the guys that do all kinds of jobs, that create these great instruments that are instruments of war and also instruments of peace that we use in our military. All of these things are at risk, and the people who do those jobs are at risk right now as they relate directly to the sequester.

I am joined by my friend Mr. Bishop from Utah. Would you like to jump in here and talk a little bit about this? You are on the Armed Services Committee, I believe.

We had 20-some minutes to start. So we are down to 10 minutes, I believe. Tell us your view from the committee.


Mr. CARTER. Reclaiming my time, and we may get a little more time, so don't run off.

What you just had to say was really important. That's the kind of shock that the American people need to hear. We are going to take the most powerful and the strongest military force on Earth and hollow it out. And when you ask a commander to explain a hollow force, he will say, On paper, it will look like a combat brigade; but when you go down into the various jobs that must be done to have an effective fighting combat brigade, you will find there is no one in those jobs. Therefore, it is not an effective combat brigade. This is simple stuff using just people as an example.

When you are using carrier forces and you are saying, We're going to take out the carrier and all their supporting ships--so we're going to give up a carrier and its ships or maybe two carriers and its ships to meet this sequester--you gut the Navy.

You gut the way they deliver force to a fight. They are one of our major deliverers of force to a fight. We take their claws away from them. The long-range Stryker and our new ships that are coming online, that as I understand it--and I forget what they call that--but that is gone.

And the thing about the Air Force, my gosh, we have known for a long time, since I first came to this Congress, that we were behind the eight ball in developing the next generation of combat fighting aircraft. We were behind the eight ball. This is when I came in 2002 and the discussion I was having with the folks in those days, we are working on it, we have them on the assembly line, we are trying to finish them up, but we're behind the eight ball. The Chinese and the Russians already have the next generation of fighting aircraft, and they're developing more, just as you said. And yet, we're talking about ours are going to go away. You have much more experience with this than I do, but I think everybody has common enough sense to know that if you shut it down, bringing it back is going to take a long time. It's just that simple. It's complicated. It's not easy.

And then of course, if we're not going to reduce the numbers of our fighting force, we're going to reduce the way they go to battle because you've got to cut something in the Army. If you're not cutting people, and I don't know if that's what the President means when he says he's not going to go after the personnel, whether he means he's not going to lower their pay or he's not going to lower their numbers. I don't know the answer. But if they lower the numbers, this is the vehicle the next generation is supposed to go to war in. We're not going to have that vehicle to go to war in.


Mr. CARTER. Thank you. We'll try not to use it all so somebody can go get some rest around here for all the good work you people do here. But I am grateful to have a little more time so I can visit with my good friend, Mr. Bishop.

That's what you've been saying to us here. And one of the things you hear around this House is, well, there's soft power. I've had debates with some of my colleagues that we don't use soft power effectively. We try to always use hard power. I would argue you can't have soft power unless you've got hard power. All the sweet talk in the world, if you don't have somebody to back you up that you can ultimately punch them in the nose, it ain't getting you anywhere. And if we're taking the punch out of our military, what are we left with?

By the way, I think those young kids who are not getting the kind of history lessons they should get these days probably know from somebody telling them that the last time we took our military down to this level, we had an event called Pearl Harbor. And that shows what happens when your readiness is not ready. And this is a world full of very, very dangerous things right now. We've been looking at terrorism for the last 10 years, and terrorism remains a big, big problem for this country. But there are others who would do us harm out there that if we don't have the ability to defend ourselves, we could fall into serious harm's way.

I yield to my friend.


Mr. CARTER. I thank the gentleman for pointing that out, and reclaiming my time, we've already done work to show the direction we can go to head off this absolute disaster for our national defense. It is in the hands of the Democratic-controlled Senate. It is in the hands of the majority leader in the Senate, and it is time for him to put the partisan politics aside and fund our military and make the cuts across other areas.

Let's keep to our word to make cuts. Let's don't break that word, but let's don't destroy the military and violate the Constitution, which says we are supposed to provide for the common defense of this country.

You know, sometimes we get kind of provincial in this country, so just for the fun of it, let's talk a little bit about all those jobs, who's going to lose those jobs.

Let me put that chart up here. Potential job losses across the board: California, 125,800; Virginia, 122,800; Texas, 91,600; Florida, 39,200; Massachusetts, 38,200; Maryland, 36,200; Pennsylvania, 36,200; Connecticut, 34,200; Arizona, 33,200; Missouri, 31,200. That's the top. That's the top 10, I think it is.

But the truth is the defense industry and those who provide for the defense industry are a major part of our economy. We're all going to feel this. But if you're one of those States, and you're already worried about where are your kids, when they get out of school, going to get a job with jobs being lost, look at that list and see that we're all in this together. As we make this crazy move of weakening our national defense to the point of disaster, we're also weakening the very economy we're struggling to strengthen.

How can this possibly be good sense to anybody in this country? To me, it doesn't register. We're looking to create jobs, not destroy jobs. This is going to be a major impact on our country. I think we have the real potential to go back into a deep, double-dip recession and hopefully just being able to head it off at that.

Meanwhile, as these cuts take place and our military gets weaker and weaker and weaker, what do we do about the enemies of the United States? Is that where we want to be? Have we become that kind of country? I don't think so. I think we all need to gut up and put the politics aside. Let's don't hold hostage these jobs and hold hostage our military so somebody can get their tax policy different from someone else's tax policy. Let's debate that without holding anybody hostage. Let's debate it, let's vote on it, and let's get it done. Let's go to conference and let's work on taxes the way we're supposed to, but let's don't hold anybody hostage with threatening to destroy our military and get half the country laid off because we want it our way.

I would argue that that's exactly what Harry Reid is doing right now in the Senate. And I think that is something we need to stand up and shout on behalf of those warriors who go to war for us and who, by the way, have gone to war for us multiple times in the last decade.

This is exactly what Congressman Bishop was talking about. We have a resolution that was sent over there, H.R. 5652. It replaces $78 billion in defense cuts with $316 billion in cuts over 10 years, and the cuts come from across the board--Agriculture, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means--instead of all out of the Defense Department. And the committee chairmen of the committees in the House did the work, held the hearings, and came up with these solutions. This is how this place is supposed to work.

Now, why can't we let it work? Why do we have to play political games that hold the greatest defense in the world hostage? It's a crime. It's absolutely a crime not only to our institutions of the military, but to our individuals in the military who gave us 10 years of war and did it voluntarily. Not one of them was drafted into the fight. They all marched to war voluntarily. And some of them suffered horrendously on behalf of this country. They got promoted, and they were rising in the military; and with one fell swoop, because we refused to do it the right way, and the Senate wants to hold tax policy before the goodness of the Defense Department, these guys are going to lose their jobs. And those people aren't in those unemployment figures. These are industry figures we're talking about.

But what about the guy that fought for you for 10 years and you've thrown him out of a job when he's been promoted? He may be a staff sergeant for all I know, that kid that I met in Korea almost 10 years ago. And yet do you know what? We're going to fire the kid even though he has been a good soldier. What are you going to do with him? He's got to find a new job and a new career. He chose defending his country as his career.

Through no fault of his own, but through the political will of the Senate, at least the majority of the Senate, he gets his job taken away from him, and he's out on the unemployment line. Something is bad wrong with this whole picture.

I'm not going to take all the rest of the time, Mr. Bishop. I'll yield back to you if you have anything you'd like to say in conclusion, and then I'll wrap it up. I'm really grateful for you coming down here because your insight coming from the committee and hearing this day in and day out, I know you all have held numerous hearings on every issue, and I really appreciate your coming and sharing that with us.


Mr. CARTER. I think a good point that you've clearly made, ``sequestration'' should be a definition of our failure to meet our constitutional responsibility. And it just can't happen. So I want to end by encouraging both sides of the aisle and all my colleagues in this House, let's get this deal done, let's don't gut our military, let's come up with other solutions, and for goodness' sakes, let's don't sell out the people who have gone to war for us for the last 10 years.


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