Department of Defense Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

Date: June 10, 2015
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to my good friend, Chairman Frelinghuysen, and to congratulate him on the collegial and the transparent manner in which he has crafted this legislation.

I also want to express my sincere appreciation for the efforts of Chairman Hal Rogers, Ranking Member Nita Lowey, and of all the members of the Defense Subcommittee.

This bill, obviously, could not have been written without the dedication, long hours, discerning judgment, and thoughtful input of our committee staff and personal staffs. I thank them very much.

The chairman has fully and fairly described the bill we are considering today. I believe he has accurately described the very dangerous and unpredictable world in which we live. As such, I will enter my detailed comments on the bill for the Record. Instead, I want to use my time during general debate to discuss the albatross around Congress' neck--the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Despite near universal disdain and plenty of buyer's remorse from the 187 current House Members who voted in favor of the Budget Control Act, it has proven to be an extremely resilient--yet utterly ineffective--piece of law. We have seen short postponements of sequestration. We have seen 2-year alleviations of the budget caps. Yet we find ourselves nearly 5 years since its enactment far from the consensus needed to repeal the law. Further, the continued halfhearted attempts to fix the Budget Control Act are almost as detrimental to the law, itself, as they add to the Nation's uncertainty.

Additionally, it is becoming increasingly difficult to point to any positive changes in our fiscal situation as a result. While intended to reduce the budget deficit through spending limits and reductions, our national debt has increased by 24.5 percent since the enactment of the legislation, mainly because the committees that are not truly constrained by discretionary spending caps continue to push politically popular legislation with little regard for its impact on the Federal budget.

For example, in April of this year, Congress passed legislation that permanently fixed the longstanding issues with Medicare's payment rates for physician services. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this fix will result in a $141 billion increase in Federal budget deficits over the next 10 years; yet the measure sailed through both Houses of Congress with very little opposition, and it was greeted by a cheerful signing statement at the White House. After 17 temporary measures, it is clear that a permanent doctor fix was long overdue. However, I believe it illustrates my larger point that we are nowhere close to having a sincere conversation about our deficits while nondiscretionary spending and a lack of revenue continue to, largely, get a free pass.

Until the President and Congress stop whistling past the graveyard and confront the continued growth and mandatory spending, while simultaneously increasing revenues, our committee--the Appropriations Committee--has no choice but to carry out the implausible mandate contained in the Budget Control Act and try to control deficits with jurisdiction over only 34 percent of one half of the Federal Ledger.

It does not help, I fear, that a majority of our colleagues have no idea when the fiscal year starts except that that is when you shut the government down. I despair that most think continuing resolutions are the norm and that sequestration is not all that bad, and that there is some delight every time a civilian Federal employee is furloughed. To me, all are symptoms of failure.

The time we have caused people to waste by not finishing Congress' work on time, enacting innumerable continuing resolutions, and vacillating from one top line to another is deplorable. Whether it is a Federal agency, a State, other political subdivisions, a nonprofit organization, contractors, or an allied nation all have been less efficient in recent years because of the constant uncertainty surrounding the Federal Government's finances.

To illustrate, in nearly every fiscal year since the Budget Control Act's enactment, there have been attempts to alter the caps on defense and nondefense spending. Two years ago, the House and Senate had allocations that were $91 billion apart, yet the suballocation for defense was only about $4 billion as far as a difference. Both were in excess of the caps. Needless to say, we ended up at a point somewhere between the two, but only after we wasted an incredible amount of time, and shut down the Federal Government.

While not a mirror image of 2 years ago, the fiscal year 2016 process is careening toward a similar fate. This fiscal year, the President got the process started by submitting a budget request that did not comply with the limitations mandated by the Budget Control Act across all budgeted fiscal years. The majority party's response to the President was to pass a budget resolution that purports to abide by the caps for fiscal year 2016 for defense and nondefense discretionary spending, yet evades the defense cap by proposing $38 billion above the President's budget request for overseas contingency operations--for purposes of this act, the global war on terror. Despite the objections of the Secretary of Defense, this additional funding was further entrenched by the recently passed fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

There is no question that Presidents Bush and Obama, the Department of Defense, and Congress have been complicit since 2001 in using emergency war funding to resource enduring requirements for the military. For the past few years, despite the constraints of the Budget Control Act, the Defense Subcommittee, led by my good friend Chairman Frelinghuysen, has begun to make strides in limiting what is an eligible expense for OCO and shift activities to the base budget; and he is doing exactly the right thing. This was done because it is increasingly difficult, after 14 years, to argue that this operational tempo for our military is a contingency and not the new normal in defending our great Nation and our interests.

Needless to say, I find the increased reliance on contingency funding very troubling--and not because I object to providing additional funds for the Department of Defense. I agree with the Department, and I agree with the chairman that sticking to the caps for defense spending would necessitate our forces assuming unreasonable risk in carrying out our national defense strategy.

But at the same time, Mr. Chairman, we need a strong nation as well as a strong defense. We cannot continue to let our country deteriorate, with interstate bridges that collapse and kill our citizens, meaningful scientific research that atrophies, and a population whose educational attainment falls further and further behind.

Looking ahead, only the most Pollyannaish among us fails to see that we will be in the throes of another crisis in December. Our time, our staff's time, Congress' time, the country's time should not be wasted any longer. The President of the United States and the leaders of both parties of both Houses ought to start meaningful negotiations now so that they can conclude before October 1 to allow this great committee, the Committee on Appropriations, to again do the business of the country in an orderly, thoughtful, and timely fashion.

I stress, this is not an issue of process. Congress should not be searching for ways to alter the process in order to avoid making hard decisions on an annual basis. This is a matter of will, and we need to use the power of the purse to its fullest.

I expressed a number of concerns, but I would close, relative to the legislation before us, given the constraints that this committee faces, by observing that Chairman Frelinghuysen and the subcommittee have done an exceptional job in putting this bill together. In particular, the chairman has been meticulous with the $37.5 billion added to title IX of this bill. He has avoided the easy path. Rather, he has painstakingly worked to provide the needed resources for the preparation of our forces in the field. Further, the chair was very thoughtful in his construction of the base portion of the bill, and I believe it and the report provide the stability needed for our military personnel--as the chairman emphasized, its readiness--and it preserves our industrial base.

I close by indicating I look forward to the debates on the amendments.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I will not take the full 5 minutes, but I would just point out to all of my colleagues that we are on page 9 of a 163-page bill. This bill deals with the national security of this country. It contains $578,656,000,000, and we have already received two amendments that have been offered on the floor that were not made available to us. I would hope that this does not continue to be a practice during the coming debate on the remainder of the bill given the gravity of the bill, the subject matter, and the amendments, themselves.

I would ask all of the Members to have the courtesy to make sure both the majority and the minority have their amendments in a timely fashion and, certainly, before we begin 5 minutes of debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. I would ask for that civility on behalf of all of the Members.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I appreciate the gentleman's statement before the floor and for his bringing the issue to the Members' attention.

As you frankly point out, not only for the constituency you represent but whether it was in any of our districts, as you also rightfully point out, this is a national problem. It tends to be forgotten because it is not seen visually by the average constituent. It is a very serious health and environmental problem, and I do appreciate your raising it during this particular debate.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I appreciate the chairman's offer to work with the gentleman as we proceed but would associate myself with the chairman's concerns relative to the amendment that has been offered and, particularly, with an emphasis to the break in production, which I think is a very serious issue.

So I do want to associate myself with the chairman's concerns and objection that he has raised, but again, his willingness to work with the gentleman in the future.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chair, I appreciate the gentleman's concern relative to Russia and his desire to make sure that they do abide by the existing treaty.

Certainly, I would acknowledge that they have invaded the country of Ukraine. They control a quarter of that country's industrial production, and as the gentleman has indicated, are very concerned about their violation potentially of the treaty that exists.

My concern is that the gentleman's amendment is premature. He is absolutely correct that the authorizing committee in this body did pass legislation that you are trying to address with your amendment. The other body has not yet acted.

Additionally, I would point out--and again, I think the gentleman is absolutely correct--that DOD is considering a range of options. You have enumerated at least three of them, I think, very correctly.

Again, I think it is premature, given the fact that we are still, as a country, considering what options should be utilized to deal with this very serious question that the gentleman raises. Given the fact that we don't have direct authorization and we are considering options, while I agree with the intent, I would have to object to the timing of the gentleman's amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chair, I will simply conclude by again expressing sympathy for the aim of the gentleman but pointing out that to appropriate money, we need authority. We do not yet have that, given the absence of action by the Senate and signature of the authorization into law by the President. I would ask my colleagues to oppose the gentleman's amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, the amendment that I have offered deals with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. I would suggest to my colleagues that the continued operation of the facility at Guantanamo Bay reduces our Nation's credibility and weakens our national security by providing terrorist organizations with recruitment material.

I do regret that the bill and other relevant appropriations acts continue this or any attempts to close Guantanamo by prohibiting viable alternatives. Also, as we are debating an appropriation bill, and this committee has to pay for things, I think it is appropriate to discuss the cost of the detention facility at Guantanamo. We are now spending approximately $2.7 million annually per inmate, which is about 35 times the cost per inmate in a supermaximum Federal prison in the United States.

The United States Government has transferred approximately 620 detainees from Guantanamo since May of 2002, with 532 transfers occurring during President Bush's administration and slightly in excess of 88 transfers occurring during the current administration.

Nearly 500 defendants charged with crimes related to international terrorism have been--and I would emphasize this to my colleagues--successfully convicted in the United States since 2001. It includes one former GTMO detainee who was tried in New York City, the Times Square bomber; Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; and others. All of them are incarcerated in our Federal prisons throughout the United States, and there have been no security incidents. Further, there are six Defense Department facilities where Guantanamo Bay detainees could be held in the United States that are currently only at 48 percent of their end capacity.

I would ask my colleagues to adopt this amendment so we could move forward.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chair, I would simply say that the gentleman from Virginia noted that there is supposition and unknown in the future, and that is certainly correct. What is known is that we are a nation of laws, and our military protects this country so that we can continue to be governed by those laws. I, for one, happen to think that the indefinite detention of any human being without a trial is violative of those laws, and that that is a foundational principle of our Nation, and we ought to conduct ourselves accordingly. I would ask my colleagues to support the amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I have a number of colleagues who want to speak, so I will be brief.

But I would point out that this amendment, if adopted, will undo last year's compromise legislation that supported the Army's critically important Aviation Restructuring Initiative. Part of that compromise was to establish a commission to study the force structure of the United States Army. I believe we should await that report.

The Army has indicated that if they are restricted under the gentleman's amendment, they would have to inactivate--and I would repeat this--they would have to inactivate one or more of the battalions in States such as New York, Kansas, and Hawaii, as well as drastically reduce the work going on into the remanufacture plant in 2016.

Each battalion inactivation will result in the unplanned transfer of approximately 500 soldiers and 1,000 family members, driven by the absence of the aircraft needed to train the unit.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I thank Chairman Frelinghuysen for yielding.

Mr. Chairman, I rise to join in opposition to the amendment in the strongest possible terms. I certainly respect the position of my colleagues on the other side of this argument, but I do remind my colleagues that the CBO estimates that this program is going to cost somewhere between $102 and $107 billion.

You are absolutely correct. This is a very expensive program, and we ought to be very, very careful. Given the tremendous financial resources that we will be required to modernize or replace the U.S. nuclear delivery systems and weapons over the next two decades, it is imperative that Congress begin to make tough decisions now and not set up segregated funds.

Unfortunately, this fund is a means to avoid those tough decisions. Firstly, the fund in no way solves the problem of where are we going to get the money. It is not going to make the next generation of ballistic missile submarines any cheaper. It simply shifts the burden for paying for their construction from the Department of the Navy to the entire Department of Defense.

I categorically disagree with the amendment's sponsor relative to this replacement program and the suggestion that it should exist outside the existing Navy shipbuilding account.

The sponsors are correct that the funding for that shipbuilding account has been relatively flat in recent years. However, if the Ohio class replacement and the 300-ship Navy are priorities of this Nation and consistent with our national defense strategy, then we ought to pay for both in a transparent manner by increasing the resources in the shipbuilding account and not resort to setting up independent funds.

Further, the sponsors indicate that this is a national priority, and I would not argue that point. These systems play a very important role in our nuclear deterrence, so do our long-range bombers and the weapons that they carry.

The Acting CHAIR. The time of the gentleman has expired.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, long-range bombers also provide protection for this country as well as the weapons they carry. I think they qualify as national asset distinctions. Should we then set up funds for these programs?

Let's think about other priorities within the Department. Should we set up a fund for the Army's 82nd Airborne? Should we set up a fund for the Air Force combat rescue officers? They are very deserving. Should we set up a fund for the special Marine Air-Ground Task Force? They are very deserving.

Another concern that I have is it really expands and transfers authority to the Secretary of Defense. The last time I looked, we have a constitutional responsibility to make decisions ourselves.

The fact is we already have a segregated fund that has drawn a lot of attention to this bill that is called the overseas contingency operations fund. Should we start picking between services now as to which one should receive special treatment? Should we then pick programs within particular services? I think not.

Again, I strongly oppose the amendment and am pleased to join with the chairman in opposition.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I thank the chairman for yielding and would acknowledge the gentleman from Texas' legitimate concern.

I would associate myself with the chairman's remark, but make one important addition, and that is the chairman has been adamant that we be very, very careful about our relationship with Pakistan, and the bill recognizes difficulties we face.

I would draw the Member's attention to section 9015 that prohibits funds to Pakistan if the government is engaged in activities that present a concern to the government of the United States.

I appreciate that the chairman insisted on that language. That is included in the bill.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I share the gentleman's deep concern over the tax dollars that have been, if you would, wasted--is probably the most polite term I can think of--in some of the infrastructure investment in Afghanistan and would not in any way argue that point.

The gentleman mentions the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. He and his office have been in mine, the chairman's, the committee, and there is no question that the gentleman makes a very, very important point about making sure that those funds we are spending, despite the best of intentions, be spent carefully.

I would note to my colleagues that we do have within somewhat recent time, the last year or so since August, a new government in place in Afghanistan. The administration has made a decision to maintain troop levels at their current position given that change of government and, if you would, after all of the loss of life, the suffering, and loss of treasury for the last 14 years, to give that nation one last good chance.

I rise in opposition, essentially, to do that for Afghanistan and to give them that last good chance for these few remaining significant projects.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I would simply suggest, again, we have a new government. I certainly think their concern for ethics, as well as care in investment, is worth taking that last good chance to give them a last good chance.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I thank the chairman for yielding.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the gentleman's motivation in offering this. In a sense, the three of us are agreed given the skepticism that has been expressed here today.

I would also add that I do believe this institution needs to have a resolution that defines with some specificity what our projection of force should be as to the disposition of our military personnel and assets. Certainly, I am grievously disappointed for those countries in that region in their lack of clarity and purpose. Also, in using, if you would, a religious theme, I was taught that we should have hope in the future, and my concern is, if we cease this training program for those who want a change in government, for those who want to do the right thing in Syria, they will lose what shred of hope still exists.

Principally, for that reason, I join with the chairman in opposition to the gentleman's amendment, but I do appreciate the gentleman's motivation.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I also want to express my best wishes for the gentleman's mother. It is hard to oppose a gentleman who went to Purdue University. I know he is a very smart individual. I have my other colleague here from Minnesota.

I have spoken to our colleagues on the previous amendment. I think people understand my position. I simply would add my voice to the chairman and emphasize, this is a very tough problem, and we ought to maintain as large a degree of flexibility as we can.

I appreciate the chairman's remarks and associate myself with them.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I thank the chair for yielding, and I associate myself with his remarks.

Again, I am not unsympathetic to the position the gentleman has raised, but I do not think we are in a very difficult relationship, that we restrain our flexibility to meet the moment.

For that reason, I join the chairman in his opposition to the amendment.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I will just reiterate my comments in the gentlewoman's last amendment and that is, after the passage of 13 years, things have changed. And one of the changes we ought to make in this Chamber is to have, again, that fulsome debate as to what the parameters of our military involvement overseas is going forward from this point in time, not the beginning of the previous decade. I appreciate the gentlewoman offering the amendment.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chair, I join with the chairman in expressing my opposition.

Again, I appreciate the gentleman's concern, but we have had a series of amendments like this brought to the debate limiting transfers, limiting consideration of any movement or decisions or changes at the Department of Defense. At some point, we are going to have to allow the Department of Defense to run itself as well and not to second-guess that maybe sometime they actually will make improvements because of a decision they make, and for that reason, I do support my chairman in his opposition.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I appreciate the chairman yielding, and I do recognize the very tough and dangerous job that local enforcement officers have, every last one of them, and what an important job they do. I certainly have been active over my career in Congress working with the Department of Defense to transfer necessary equipment to law enforcement agencies.

But I would agree with the assertion of the gentleman that we do have to make a distinction with some of these types of materials between civil law enforcement and military action.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I would want to associate myself with the chairman's remarks and again reiterate my previous comments that at some point, we ought to trust some judgments being made down at the Department of Defense and not just say no to everything. We ought to be making some decisions.

I appreciate the chairman's explanation of the situation and join him in opposition to the amendment.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I think I speak for the committee in suggesting that we accept the gentleman's amendment and appreciate the fact that he wants to exercise care, as we do on the committee, to make sure whoever is trained is someone who is, if you would, a person of good intent, as opposed to someone who is not. I appreciate the gentleman's concern and for his offering the amendment.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Cole), my good friend and a member of our subcommittee, puts me in a very difficult position.

I complained in my opening remarks that some of our colleagues in the Congress, as I said earlier in the day, delight every time a civilian employee is furloughed. So I certainly appreciate the gist of the gentleman's amendment. We have a much larger problem that we and the administration need to address, and I know he feels the same way.

My concern with the particular amendment is we have other departments as well, whether it be the Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, EPA, Housing and Urban Development, and the list goes on, and ought not to select one agency over the other. I don't think it is the proper way to go.

We ought to collectively understand that the government actually does many good things to help the people of this country. We ought to value the work of each of our Federal employees, and we ought to block the furlough of any of them in any agency, not a particular one.

So I certainly do not disagree with the intent of the gentleman. I realize we are talking about the Department of Defense, but do believe that we ought to be looking at the broader question.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the gentleman yielding and would associate myself again with his remarks and objection to the bill. We go to great pains on the subcommittee to protect the privacy of the American people, and I would agree with the assertions the chairman has made. I appreciate him yielding to me.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. I would start my remarks by saying the gentleman from California has me at a disadvantage because we just received a copy of the final amendment that was offered in the House. Lines 7 and 8 are new to the amendment and refer to Executive Order No. 13963, which is in addition to other items that I am opposed to.

I am told that those sections in that executive order refer to planning for sustainability, but I cannot confirm that to the Members of the House.

I do rise in strong opposition to the gentleman's amendment. He talks about exotic items--exotic items. The Department of Defense would be blocked from purchasing recycled paper. Let's not buy recycled paper at the Department of Defense. Now, there is a great idea.

The Department would be blocked from generating renewable energy that might include using tents with photovoltaic materials that generate solar power onsite for our troops in God-forsaken places on this planet with no other access to energy sources.

The Department would be blocked from considering sites for new Federal facilities that are pedestrian friendly and accessible to, God forbid, public transit. Perhaps we should move the Pentagon because it is near a Metro stop.

The Department would be blocked from cooperating with the Department of Energy's efforts to maximize the use of alternative fuels for our Federal fleet.

The Department of Defense is the largest purchaser of energy in the United States of America. As a former member of the Congress, I have a profound respect for Senator Dick Lugar from Indiana, as he characterized energy. It is not an energy problem so much as it is a national security issue, given where and how much energy we import.

The Department would also be blocked from advancing sustainable acquisition by trying to procure either less toxic or more water-efficient alternatives. My sense is that, in some portions of the State of California and other areas, they are desperate for a couple of extra drops of water, but that might just be too exotic.

These are programs and initiatives that make sense, both for the environment and for fiscal responsibility. Moreover, the Department has been a leader in spurring new technologies, and I thought that is what drives the economy in America.

This amendment is terribly ill-advised, and I would strongly urge all of my colleagues to oppose it.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to the gentleman's amendment.

We have a Constitution in this country. It contains language talking about the right to be assisted by counsel, and there are many other provisions relative to the protection of individual human beings from the State.

We are a very large country with approximately 2 million people in the military. I think one of the great foundational issues in the United States is to protect any human being from that incredible amount of power so that you avoid abuse.

We have seen enough instances of abuse because of allegations of terrorists, many of whom are very real, mean, despicable people; but to now say that no one should have protection to make sure that that incredible power of the state is used justly and wisely is absolutely wrong.

We have had any number of Members, our colleagues here yesterday and today on this bill, offering amendments because they believe the Department of Energy made a mistake on uniforms for airmen, the Department of Defense made mistakes as far as whether or not we should move helicopters from one base to another, we have made mistakes as far as how we should have lifesaving rescue missions for various aspects of the Department of Defense positioned throughout our great country.

What if, God forbid, all these allegations that the Department of State may make mistakes from time to time would actually have an impact on a human being, whoever they are, and that in the last instance, we don't give them one iota of protection that we give to murderers and rapists and burglar and arsonists in this country?

I think it is absolutely wrong for the gentleman to offer this amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. VISCLOSKY. Mr. Chairman, while I claim the time in opposition to the amendment, I wouldn't express it, if you would, that I will oppose his amendment, but I do want to express some very serious concerns.

The concern I have is that we do need to begin to think about future budgets for the Department of Defense; and as I have mentioned repeatedly tonight, we are going to have to start making some hard decisions, and changes will have to be made and cuts will have to be made. I am very concerned about Congress' continued failure to confront the challenges that we face at the Department of Defense and simply saying no, no, no, and that we shouldn't even consider any possible changes.

The Department of Defense has continuously proposed significant initiatives to provide for future flexibility to meet our national security strategy, and Congress has said no, no, no. I simply do not think we should foreclose any options to consider in order to possibly, God forbid, save money in the outyears.

A BRAC round is a reasonable approach that provides Congress a chance to say yes or no, and I would make the observation again that we have got to stop saying no to everything that the Department of Defense considers. In this case, I am not even aware there is a proposal for a BRAC, but let's say no anyway. I think we have to stop doing it.