Chair McCollum Statement at Full Committee Markup of Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Funding Bill

2021-07-13 14:02

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Defense Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Appropriations Committee's markup of the fiscal year 2022 Defense bill:

Thank you, Chairwoman DeLauro.

It is an honor to present to you the Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Appropriations bill.

I’d like to thank our subcommittee Ranking Member Mr. Calvert for his collaboration and input throughout the process of drafting this bill - as well as Chairwoman DeLauro and Ranking Member Granger for their leadership in what has been a very challenging year for all of us.

Thank you to the Members of our subcommittee for your contributions and your participation in the 18 hearings we held this spring.

And finally, I want to thank Chris Bigelow and the subcommittee staff on the majority side, Johnnie Kaberle and the minority staff, and Ben Peterson , Jae Lee, Michael Mackay, and all the associate staff and fellows who worked so hard to produce the legislation before you today.

For Fiscal year 2022, the Subcommittee recommendation totals $705.9 billion dollars – which is essentially equal to President Biden’s budget request.

I would like to provide some of the thoughts that went into producing this bill.

What most often draws the attention within the Defense bill, from Members of Congress, the media, and from industry, is the procurement of weapons systems.

But the reality is that the vast majority of this bill, approximately two thirds of it, funds people – and the important jobs that they do.

The Defense Appropriations bill provides the training, equipping and mission support for more than 1.3 million active duty and nearly 800,000 reserve members of our Armed Forces.

It provides them with the tools they need to complete their missions, defend our country, and come home safely.

Beyond that, this bill is critical to the quality of life of our service members and their families.

Included is a 2.7 percent military pay raise, so our service members can adequately support their families.

It builds on previous Defense Appropriations bills with support for the Services’ childcare programs. 

As we know, adequate childcare is an issue that is deeply important to families and directly impacts military retention rates.

This bill also invests in the life, health, and safety of our service members by funding $36.7 billion in medical and health care programs at the Department of Defense. 

This includes over $500 million in funding for cancer research, as well as research on traumatic brain injuries and exposure to toxic chemicals including those from burn pits.

The bill also focuses on ensuring that all our service members are safe in their workspace. 

This bill increases funding above the request for the Department and Services’ Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs.

We know that funding alone is not the solution to this crisis.

For years, the military has told us it is trying to address the sexual assault issue.

But we all know that more needs to be done, so now Congress must step in to address how these issues are adjudicated.

We also have included strong report language and requirements on the urgent need for the Department to tackle extremism and white supremacy within the ranks.

Extremism undermines the cohesion and trust within our military, and I strongly support Secretary Austin’s pledge to root it out.

The Defense Appropriations bill is a jobs bill.

I mentioned the numbers of uniformed military this bill supports, but as the largest employer in the world, the Department of Defense also employs approximately 766,000 civilian employees and contractors. 

And the work they do is critical to our national security.

Across the country, millions of jobs are funded by this bill.

These are jobs in all of our Congressional Districts - union jobs in industry, manufacturing, small businesses, as well as jobs in scientific research and academia.

We have also included increased funding and important report language to foster workforce development at the Department of Defense.

This bill will help align the Department’s modernization efforts with the need to build the modern national security workforce that is required to keep our country safe.

Whether in cyber, or advanced manufacturing, or clean energy or yes climate change – this bill will support a high-tech, high skilled workforce of the future.

So to be clear - this bill is about people, it is about quality of life, it is about American jobs, and it is about America’s leadership role in the world.

In my opinion, we have landed on a responsible topline number that makes these critical investments in our people, and maintains a strong security posture today and for years to come.

To my friends who say that the funding in this bill is not enough - I would point out that I have asked both Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley directly – is President Biden’s proposed 1.4 percent increase a sufficient number to meet our national security needs?

Both the Secretary and the Chairman said yes, that this topline will ensure our national security

I believe them and I trust their judgment.

But our national security is not only dependent on the number in the Defense bill.

It is greatly impacted by the diplomatic and development initiatives in the State and Foreign Operations bill.

I applaud President Biden for re-engaging with our NATO partners, and working to leverage the strength of our allies to meet the challenges posed by Russia and China.

Because America simply cannot afford to be, nor should we be, the police of the world.

But we are the leader of free and vibrant democracies who stand for human rights and democratic values.

And the security of all likeminded nations cannot be our burden to bear alone.

Take the challenge posed by China.

The key to providing an effective and long-lasting deterrence with China is not with out of control U.S. defense spending.

It will be achieved by leveraging our collective strength with our Pacific allies.

And together we can do it.

The only way to maintain parity with China in naval forces, and preserve our advantage in aircraft, is for our Armed Forces to work in conjunction with our major Pacific allies - Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

So yes, China is a challenge – but let’s not fall into the trap of thinking they are insurmountable.

Most importantly - to be a strong nation abroad, we need to be a strong nation here at home.

And I strongly support President Biden’s proposal to substantially increase investments here in the United States by 16 percent.

The health and wellness of the American people, improving our economy, and educating a workforce for the future, are all critical components of a strong nation – and that is the foundation of a strong national security.

We are living through a global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 600,000 of our fellow Americans.

COVID-19 has been as dire a threat to our nation as any we have faced since World War II.

To be sure, China and Russia present significant challenges to our national security, but since World War II no foreign nation has disabled one of our aircraft carriers.  COVID-19 did.

With COVID-19, we see how failing to address widespread underlying health conditions can lead to devastating human consequences.

Right now, 70 percent of young Americans are unfit to serve in our Armed Forces.

That is a statistic that should concern everyone in this room.

And what makes so many people ineligible to serve in the military are the same underlying conditions that led to so many COVID deaths.

A higher Defense budget topline will not solve that problem, it requires investments here at home.

That is why in reviewing the report, you will see more of an emphasis on strengthening America here at home - improving pandemic preparedness, strengthening the supply chain for critical materials, and the Defense Production Act.

Make no mistake - every dollar that we invest on the domestic side - on education, on infrastructure, on public health initiatives and healthcare – grows our economy, improves the quality of life for American families – and contributes to our national security.

It will come as no surprise to anyone in this room that I believe our future and our national security are threatened by climate change.

But this is not a matter of using the Defense spending bill to enact environmental policy. 

Combatting climate change is vital to global security - because climate change is a fundamentally destabilizing force both here and around the world.

You will see significant investments on climate adaptation, improving our readiness in the Arctic region to counter Russia, and clean energy initiatives reflected in this bill.

We have far too many “black flag” days at bases across the country where our troops cannot train. 

Our Subcommittee held the first ever Defense Appropriations hearing on the impacts of climate change on our military.

And we heard testimony on facilities that are not resilient due to climate change.

The Naval Academy in Annapolis because of sea level rise.

The Air Force Academy in Colorado because of extreme cold weather.

Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida damaged by a hurricane.

Camp Lejeune in North Carolina damaged by extreme flooding.

These are only a few examples from recent years.

Investing in energy efficient systems isn’t only good for the environment, it makes those systems more effective in a high-end fight with adversaries who will target energy supplies.

The Subcommittee scoured the President’s budget request and made hundreds of reductions where we could not justify spending taxpayer dollars.

The bill in front of you departs from the request in several key areas, including adding an extra Navy destroyer, and zeroing out funding for the Sea Launched Cruise Missile – which I do not believe is a good investment.

The Subcommittee also took great care in considering approximately 10,000 requests from Members.

No matter what our topline allocation might be, I agree with the Department that we cannot continue to spend it on ineffective systems, and Members will see that reflected in this bill.

Our Subcommittee has spent a considerable amount of time in our budget hearings discussing the definition of legacy systems.

What matters is not the age of a platform, but how capable it is, how functional, and whether it will help our service members in a high-end fight.

Tough choices were made when putting this bill together. And we must be willing to let go of iconic aircraft or weapons that no longer serve a strategic purpose, or are not survivable in a current or future fight.

We do a disservice to the more than two million men and women in uniform if we place parochial interests above smart security investments for the future.

As we end the war in Afghanistan, the bill seeks to resolve two issue that Congress has grappled with for years.

First, the bill does not include a separate Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, account.

All funding in this bill is within base accounts. This will make for a more transparent budget process and ends a funding gimmick used by both parties.

Second, the bill supports President Biden’s call to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

The bill includes a new provision that prohibits funds from being used to operate the facility after September 30, 2022.

Guantanamo Bay has been a stain on our national conscience for far too long and it is time for Congress to act.

The last item I will mention is a General Provision to require all for-profit contractors receiving funds in the bill to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.

A current executive order requires contractors working on government contracts to be paid at least $15 an hour.

This bill takes it a step further by requiring for-profit defense contractors with government contracts to pay all of their employees at least $15 per hour.

We simply cannot allow companies receiving hundreds of millions, or even billions, of taxpayer dollars to pay their workers less than a living wage.

Madam Chair, it is a privilege to Chair the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee where it is our task to provide funding for the men and women who take an oath to defend our Constitution with their lives.

And we have a solemn responsibility - to provide for the health and wellness of our service members and their families – so they can continue to protect our nation today and for generations to come.

I strongly believe that we have produced a bill that fulfills that responsibility, and I ask all Members to support the bill today.

Thank you Madam Chair, I yield back.

117th Congress