House Budget Committee Hearing: The Department of Defense and the FY13 Budget

Chairman Paul Ryan
Opening Remarks, As Prepared for Delivery

Welcome all to today’s hearing to examine the President’s budget request for the Department of Defense, and to explore how the federal government can meet its highest priority: providing for the common defense and strengthening our national security.

I want to begin by welcoming Leon Panetta back to the committee.  In addition to his demonstrated experience in national security, Secretary Panetta has an extraordinary background in federal budgeting, including service as Chairman of this committee. 

Mr. Secretary, there is a portrait of you in our hearing room and we are always under your watchful gaze as we conduct our work here at the Budget Committee. 

We also warmly welcome our other two distinguished witnesses joining Secretary Panetta. 

General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the 38 years since graduating from West Point, Gen. Dempsey has led troops in combat, served as a combatant commander, and most recently served as the Chief of Staff of the Army. Thank you for your service, General.

We also welcome the Defense Department’s Comptroller, the Honorable Robert Hale – who is no stranger to this committee from his years of service at the Congressional Budget Office. Welcome Secretary Hale.

Relative to last year’s request, the President’s budget calls for a $487 billion reduction in base defense spending over the next decade.  This comes on top of already planned spending reductions for the Global War of Terrorism.

The United States remains a nation at war, and our troops remain engaged against a fierce enemy overseas.

It is difficult to square this reality with the President’s steep reductions in both troop levels and funding levels.  The timing of these cuts raises serious concerns that decisions are being driven by budgetary concerns as opposed to strategic priorities.

Mr. Secretary, I think you have a unique perspective on the tension between meeting our national security requirements and getting spending, deficits, and debt under control. 

While they’ve yet to offer a balanced budget, our friends across the aisle often call for a “balanced approach.”  Of course, budgeting is about setting priorities.  Such calls assume that all of government’s activities are equally important, and that blind proportionality can substitute for a clear-headed analysis of our priorities and responsibilities as policymakers.

Like all categories of government spending, defense spending should be executed with efficiency and accountability.  Yet many fear the arbitrary and deep reductions that the President has proposed in the defense budget will lead to a dramatic reduction in our defense capability.

I commend you for your efforts to fund defense priorities within a rapidly shrinking budget.  Your predicament, in my opinion, is due to failures elsewhere in the federal budget.

According to Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, a financial historian, the fall of great nations is the result of their excessive debt burdens.  In their paths to decline, defense spending is always the first casualty.

The failure by the Administration to deal honestly with the drivers of the debt – specifically when it comes to government spending on health care – is a failure that imperils our economic security and our national security.

With its call for crushing levels of debt and the crowding out of defense by entitlement spending, the President’s budget – in my opinion – charts a path to decline.

In addition to examining the steep defense reductions in the President’s budget, I hope today’s hearing informs us of the consequences to our security that would result from the disproportionate cuts to defense spending under the Budget Control Act’s sequester. 

Congress has a solemn obligation to ensure our troops fighting overseas have the resources they need to successfully complete their missions, and to adhere to our commitment to their service upon their return.

Every citizen owes a debt of gratitude to the military families that continue to make untold sacrifices for our security and the freedoms we cherish. 

With that, before hearing testimony from Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, I yield to Ranking Member Van Hollen.

Thank you.