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Chairman Yarmuth Opening Statement at Hearing on the President’s 2021 DOD Budget Request

Mar 10, 2020

Washington, D.C.— Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing examining President Trump’s 2021 budget request for the Department of Defense (DoD). Remarks as prepared are below:

Defense spending makes up more than half of all discretionary spending, so it is critical that the Budget Committee fully understand the department’s budget proposal and what it means for the future. While we already have a budget in place for Fiscal Year 2021, we owe it to the taxpayers and our men and women in uniform to take a comprehensive look at our security needs and provide oversight of the defense budget. To that end, I’d like to welcome back Deputy Secretary Norquist. I am glad to have DoD back before our committee for a second year in a row after a long hiatus.

We have a responsibility to provide the necessary resources to defend this country, and that includes maintaining a military that is second to none. However, our national security involves more than our military. Our country has long understood that an effective national security strategy requires a whole-of-government approach – including diplomacy and foreign aid to prevent war and broker peace in times of conflict; law enforcement to keep our communities safe; oversight to protect our food supply, our air, and our water; innovation in science and technology to keep our edge over competitors; programs to mitigate the destabilizing effects of climate change and prepare against pandemics; and investments in education and infrastructure to keep the economy – the source of our strength – growing. 

If we are to truly commit to strong national security, the conversation needs to include all the agencies and programs that keep us safe. The budget levels we all agreed to last year – under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 – embody the undeniable connection between non-defense and defense investments. I thought the President finally understood this as well, considering he signed the bill into law. Instead, he reneged on the bipartisan, bicameral deal and, once again, proposed destructive and irrational cuts to investments critical to our national and economic security.

As a prime example, this budget cuts funding for the State Department by nearly one-quarter compared with the 2020 enacted level.

This is irresponsible and shortsighted. And you don’t have to take it from me. The President’s own former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, famously said, "If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Diplomatic operations, international narcotics control and law enforcement, humanitarian aid, disease prevention and control, and education all face destructive and reckless cuts.

While the coronavirus spreads around the world and here in the United States, we clearly see how human health is interconnected and a global concern. Despite this reality, the President’s budget cuts funding for Global Health Programs by $3 billion, or 34 percent below the 2020 enacted level.

The Department of Defense has consistently identified climate change as a national security challenge and threat multiplier.  But the President’s budget not only fails to take the scale of the threat seriously; it does not even incorporate the costs of climate change into the budget. At home, U.S. military facilities, operations, and equipment are vulnerable to storms, sea level rise, flooding, wildfires, and drought. And abroad, climate change exacerbates international instability and stands to increase the frequency, scale, complexity, and cost of future DoD missions. We must be ready.

Moreover, the President’s budget includes major gaps between funding and plans.  This shows a lack of strategy that will result in inefficient military spending and a less effective military if not corrected. To be clear, I do not support all of the provisions of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy but setting our military up to fail is not only wasteful, it’s potentially dangerous.

Finally, this proposal defaults on the budget agreement, and sets the stage for funding battles with Congress and more continuing resolutions. We ask our troops to perform a very difficult job, but it is made harder if we fail to come through on time with the proper resources in the right accounts. Thankfully, the Senate Majority Leader indicated that he believes in the budget we already have in place and will stick to it.

Deputy Secretary Norquist, I realize the tremendous responsibility shouldered by you and your department. Securing the safety of the American people and maintaining the best interests of our servicemembers is no easy job – especially when you are operating under the direction of a President who often gets his security briefings from cable news and puts his personal whims above our national security. We are all concerned by the President’s politically motivated and brazen reprogramming of military funds for his border wall pet project. I have no doubt this not only makes your job harder, but it makes it harder for those who put on the uniform and sacrifice for this country every day.

Once again, I thank you for being here today. I look forward to your testimony.