Budget process: More spending, greater debt, military trimmed

Just a quick update for you this week on where we stand in the budget process.

First, I wanted to bring you up to speed on some veterans-related legislation that was considered in the House this week.

First off, as you all probably know, we’re officially into budget season now.

The President’s budget was released earlier this month, and we’ve been going through it thoroughly. In particular, as part of my role on the House Armed Services Committee, we’ve been taking testimony from each of the service chiefs and examining the close details of their respective budget requests.

More on that in a moment.

As a general matter, before I get too far into this, it’s important to remember that the President’s budget is indeed a request. It does not carry the force of law. Congress gets the final say about how much money the government will or won’t spend. What the document tells us is what the government’s finances would look like if the President could have it any way he wanted.

On the spending side of the ledger, President Obama is requesting a $791 billion increase in spending over the 10-year budget window.

If enacted, it would include a $56 billion increase in spending next year - over and above the levels established in the bipartisan budget agreement reached at the end of last year. His budget would cause total spending to rise from current levels by roughly 63 percent over the next 10 years. Much of that growth is in so-called mandatory spending on items such as Medicare and Social Security, but an enormous amount of the growth is also due to an explosion in our annual interest payments on our debt.

Under the President’s fiscal plan, our interest payments to the nation’s creditors would rise from $223 billion this year to over $800 billion annually within a decade. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise (we’ve known about this for a while), but what is surprising is that in spite of our exploding “credit card” payments, the President’s budget would never balance – ever. Just in the next ten years, under his plan, we’ll add another $5 trillion to the debt.

This increase in borrowing comes in spite of the President’s call for raising taxes by an additional $1.8 trillion over current levels. Keep in mind he has already raised taxes by $1.7 trillion.

Miltary monies diverted

Meanwhile, despite the increase in spending … and taxes … and debt … we’re struggling just to keep our defense resources intact.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed legislation dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and an aid package for Ukraine that pays for the cost by implementing additional cuts to our military.

This is the public statement I put out on that legislation:

“I am absolutely appalled that members of the United States Senate, who have sworn an oath to defend this nation, would seriously be considering cuts to our own military in order to give that money away to other countries. This government does a lot of things that I think are wrong-headed, but cutting from the military to pay for the IMF is about as bad as it can get.

“We’ve seen this all before where Congress weakens the military because they think the world is free of threats and as soon as they do, our adversaries see that weakness and they start testing us. If you don’t think that Russia and China and others are watching what we’re doing here and slapping high fives behind the scenes, you’re crazy. Every time America purposefully weakens itself, it has the effect of purposefully strengthening our enemies and I would encourage my Senate colleagues to think very carefully about that.”

From time to time, I am absolutely astonished at the collective wisdom of Washington. And every time I think I’ve seen it all – that I couldn’t possibly be shocked at anything Congress decides to do – they run and pass legislation like this. It’s beyond comprehension.

In any case, when it comes to defense funding, I think our guiding star is pretty simple – decide what it is you would like for our military to do, and then fund that mission adequately.

In other words, what kind of capabilities do we want our forces to have? What kind of threats do we expect them to respond to? What sort of aggression from foreign actors are we hoping to deter? Where will our military need to be and how quickly? Do we want to maintain our ability to simultaneously engage in two separate conflicts or are we satisfied being unable to fight a war on two fronts? These are the kinds of questions you start with. When you have the answers, then you know what level of resources will be required?

It is our duty, as I see it, to adequately fund those needs. When we ask our troops to prepare against certain threats and then don’t provide them with the resources they need to carry out that mission, then we put our kids at risk. That’s unacceptable to me and hopefully, Congress will come together to realize that and act accordingly.

In any case, that’s where things stand this week. If you have any questions or concerns, I hope you’ll send them along. As always, I appreciate your interest and your time. And if there is anything my staff or I can do to be of service to you, please let me know.

Richard Nugent,
Member of Congress, 11th Congressional District