Honoring Commitments and Remembering Lessons Learned

Apr 23, 2013

The fiscal year 2014 defense budget that was recently submitted to Congress contains many of the same requests that we have seen in previous years.  The President’s Administration has a history of continually cutting resources from the Department of Defense. Sadly, this year’s budget makes no exception. Cutting resources from our defense, which places our national security at risk, is not the way our military should be forced to proceed.

The Department asks for two unnecessary rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in fiscal years 2015 and 2017. Conducting a BRAC is very expensive and it takes years to recoup those costs as the Department has yet to see savings from the 2005 BRAC. In the current fiscal environment, the Department has higher budgetary priorities.  Additionally, the Army and Marine Corps are both in the process of reducing their end strengths.  All of the services are currently redeploying personnel and equipment from overseas to U.S. installations as assets are being repositioned due to a heightened focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Based upon this logic, the Department should allow these operations to further progress before evaluating if they have excess infrastructure.

The Department has also asked Congress to increase TRICARE enrollment fees on military retirees as well as institute new enrollment fees on our over 65 military retirees who use TRICARE for Life.  In the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress authorized the Department to increase TRICARE enrollment fees equal to the Cost of Living Adjustments to retirement pay.  Since then, the Department has repeatedly asked for further increases, while at the same time requesting the authority to reprogram in excess of $1.3 billion from the Defense Health Program to other priorities outside of healthcare. The Department should honor the commitments that it has made to our military retirees and, as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel, it is not right to ask these retirees to shoulder any more of the burden.  The same holds true for our over 65 military retirees who use TRICARE for Life; they should not be subject to new enrollment fees while the Department continues to have excess funds within their healthcare programs. 

With the current security situation that exists in the world today, it is inconceivable that the President would request another $120 billion cut to defense spending.  The situation on the Korean Peninsula remains extremely volatile.  Iran, with the help of North Korea continues to develop a nuclear weapon.  Terrorism in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and Africa continues to be a threaten regional stability and with all that said, Congress and the White House have done a poor job in the past of predicting where the next conflict will occur and how we will fight it.  Therefore, we must ensure that our military is ready for any contingency.

Continuing to reduce the defense budget is to ignore the lessons of 9/11 and repeat the mistakes of the 1990s.  We do not know when or where the military will be needed next.  What we know with virtual certainty is that our military will once again be called upon to protect the United States and our allies.  It is far less expensive to maintain readiness than it is to react and build readiness.  Peace through strength is a proven policy, weakness will lead to further attacks.

After 9/11, we reacted and built readiness because we allowed our military and national security to deteriorate during the 1990s.  Congress and the President looked at the world and saw no need to maintain a robust military after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but then a new threat emerged, violently and suddenly.

Make no mistake; our military readiness and our economic well-being are inextricably linked.  While the United States continues its economic recovery we cannot mortgage national defense to maintain unsustainable spending on entitlement programs that are the clear driver of our debt.  A strong economy is one part of a strong America, but a strong economy is not possible without safety and security.  Our military plays a crucial role in keeping every American family safe.

We all know that war is expensive. Therefore, as we gradually bring the current conflicts to an end, let us maintain a strong and ready military to serve as a deterrent to war and all who seek to do us harm.  Our military personnel who now serve in all the services are well trained and possess an extensive amount of knowledge that has been hard earned in combat.  We have to keep the faith with all those currently serving and all those who have served so that our military continues to attract the best and brightest because our veterans and retirees are the best recruiters we have.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel.