Chairman Visclosky Statement at Hearing on FY 2020 DOD Budget Request

2019-05-01 09:58

Congressman Pete Visclosky (IN-01), Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Department of Defense:

The Committee will come to order.

Today we will hear from Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and David Norquist, Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense. 

Secretary Shanahan, although you are not a stranger to the Subcommittee, this will be your first time testifying before us, welcome.  Deputy Secretary Norquist, good to see you again.  

General Dunford, I believe you have testified before this Subcommittee annually since 2013 and in three different roles, which must be some sort of record.  I realize this will be your final time before us and I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation for your over 40 distinguished years of service to this nation, incredible professionalism, and steadfastness of purpose.  On behalf of the subcommittee, thank you. 

In your written testimonies and previous briefings for the fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request, it is clear the Department is going to great lengths to tie almost every decision to the priorities laid out in the National Defense Strategy (NDS).  While I disagree with several aspects of the NDS, I do think the document provides an accurate assessment of the strategic environment and generally points the Department in the right direction.  However, as with a lot of ambitious strategic plans, the question is “How are we going to pay for this?”

For the next two fiscal years, it is impossible to answer that question without discussing the Budget Control Act, also known as the BCA.  The initial impact of the BCA caps was admittedly severe; however, the Department of Defense has received a total of $264 billion in base budget relief from the caps since FY12.  Much of that occurred in FY17-FY19, when the Department’s budget increased by 13% in nominal terms.  And the FY20 budget request proposes another increase of 4.9% ($33 billion).  Further, there are about $11 billion in unfunded requirements and priorities requested by the Services and combatant commands for FY20.  Even the FY20 budget request recognizes that funding increases of this magnitude are unsustainable and slows the rate of growth across the FYDP.  In the out years, the Department claims that it will be able to prioritize modernization by relying on savings, reforms, and efficiencies that have been notoriously difficult to achieve.  

I just wish the Administration could muster the courage to attack the BCA caps with the same relish it uses to tout the NDS.  Rather, the Department’s budget request eschews the caps by using the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) accounts, which are exempt from the BCA caps, to fund base activities. 

In both FY20 and FY21, this budget requests nearly $100 billion in OCO to Base to “support the National Defense Strategy.”  These OCO for Base funds are in addition to traditional OCO, which is projected to exceed $60 billion in each of those years.  Admittedly, OCO for Base is not a new concept, but the amounts requested in this budget are staggeringly out of proportion with prior efforts to avoid budget caps.  However, in FY22, after the BCA caps sunset, OCO for Base disappears and traditional OCO miraculously shrinks to $20 billion.  People’s cynicism about this approach is understood.

I must also say that as a Member of the Legislative Branch, I am grossly offended by the unconstitutional actions taken by the Executive Branch to fund the construction of the unauthorized wall on the southern border.  Using funds that Congress declined to appropriate for that purpose and over the denial of this Committee and others, the Defense Department is in the process of conveying billions to the Department of Homeland Security.  There is no emergency at the border that requires the use of the armed forces.  We are here to appropriate funds needed for the military, not to make good on a campaign promise.    

With that, I thank you again for appearing before the Committee today.  We will ask you to present your summarized statement in a moment, but first I want to recognize the distinguished ranking member, Mr. Calvert, for his opening comments.

116th Congress