by Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) – Delievers on the floor of the US Senate
(May 22, 2003) — Mr. President, just weeks ago, our Armed Forces once again demonstrated the overwhelming might of the United States military. Due to the sustained commitment of our country to invest a substantial proportion of our national wealth into our national defense, our military is faster, more agile, more lethal, better equipped, better protected, and better compensated than any other in the world.
Make no doubt about it, the sums that we invest in defense are enormous. According to the most recent CIA World Factbook, the world spent about three-quarters of a trillion dollars on arms in 1999, the latest year for which statistics are available. That same year, the United States spent $292 billion on its military that is nearly 40 percent of all military spending on Earth. Our country spends more on defense than all the other 18 members of NATO, plus China, plus Russia, and plus the six remaining rogue states combined.
Yet our defense budget continues to increase. This bill authorizes $400 billion for our national defense in the next year. In an age when we talk about smart bombs, smart missiles, and smart soldiers, any talk of smart budgets has gone out the window. . .
I understand that a huge bureaucracy like the Defense Department cannot turn on a dime. But any hopes of containing military spending increases while preparing our forces for the 21st century seem to be a distant memory. Two years into what was supposed to be a major overhaul, the Pentagon’s budget has grown by 24 percent, not counting any of the billions of dollars that we have spent on the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Our defense budget seems more the same than ever: not more bang for the buck, just more bucks.
The administration has charted a course now to increase defense budgets to $502.7 billion within the next 5 years. At the same time, Congress has passed one tax cut of $1.35 trillion, and the Senate is headed at flank speed to pass another $350 billion in tax cuts before this week is over. Budget deficits are soaring – soaring – out of control, while our economy is in the doldrums.
Instead of saving money by skipping a generation of military weapons, we are sending our country even deeper into debt a debt that will have to be borne by yet another generation of Americans who will be expected to pay for our defense largess.
Let there be no doubt that we can and must provide first-rate fighting capability for our troops. But we can do so without committing to defense budgets that are set to spiral ever, ever higher. I know of no one who would seriously propose to give our troops second-rate equipment or to cut their pay and benefits. The size of our defense budget is not a good measure of our support for our troops.
We have plenty of headroom in which to maintain our overwhelming military superiority without bowing to every request by the powerful defense industry for more and more and more money for more and more and more programs that are all too often over budget and behind schedule. Propping up unproven weapons systems through infusions of taxpayer cash is the surest means to short change our men and women in uniform.
There remains much to be done regarding the business practices at the Pentagon. Secretary Rumsfeld has made a commitment toward improving DOD’s financial management and accounting systems, and he appears to be making an earnest effort toward that end, but progress is painfully slow. Untangling the mess of unreliable accounting entries will take years to solve. The bottom line is that the Pentagon still has no way – none – no way of knowing how much it spends, how much it owns, or what its real budgetary needs are. It makes little sense to keep piling more money on a Department that does not know how it spent last year’s funds. . . .
But we remain on the wrong track when it comes to defense spending. Instead of truth in budgeting, Congress cannot even get a straight answer about how much it will cost to occupy Iraq. Congress could not get a straight answer as to what it would cost to wage the war in Iraq. And Congress still cannot get a straight answer about the costs of reconstructing Iraq or how long we will be there. Instead of choosing priorities for our military and skipping a generation of weapons, defense spending is through the roof while our Government is swimming in red ink. . .
We are living in a time when the greatest threat to our national security is the threat of asymmetrical warfare. We learned that on September 11, 2001. We are in no danger of being outmatched militarily by any nation on Earth, but as the current orange alert status reminds us, we remain vulnerable to the very real threat of terrorists. Yet our Department of Defense is on a track to be the instrument – get this – to be the instrument of a doctrine of preemptive attacks: Ready and willing to invade and take over sovereign states that may not even pose a direct threat to our security. The name “Department of Defense” is increasingly a misnomer for a bureaucracy that is poised to undertake conquests at the drop of a hat. . .
I don’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to national defense, but I think we are going too far. . . I believe this bill is still too costly and steers our Nation in exactly the wrong course for the future. I hope they will not think that I in any way am criticizing them or the other members of my Armed Services Committee. I believe it is time to just say no to Pentagon excesses. I believe it is time to force the Defense Department to work smarter and waste less. I believe it is time to demand accountability for our enormous investment in defense.
For these reasons I will vote against this bill.
Robert C. Byrd can be reached at email@example.com.