House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Congress to raise defense spending caps, arguing the military needs adequate funding to face the mounting threats against the United States.
In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Thursday, Ryan said that while the U.S. “has the greatest fighting force in the world,” rebuilding the military is a top priority. The country’s adversaries, he said, recognize its strength and are attempting to “develop capabilities that put our most vital interests at risk.”
While Congress passed its National Defense Authorization Act and sent it to the president’s desk, it has yet to pass a budget providing the necessary funding to fund its commitments.
The spending caps — which were part of the 2013 sequester — cuts $454 billion from defense spending over the course of a decade. Since the 2013 sequester, two deals to raise caps have been passed — the first in 2013 and the second in 2015. But the Trump administration has been adamant in its support of increasing military spending.
The Wisconsin Republican highlighted the gravity of the threats from North Korea, Iran, Russia and ISIS, stressing the U.S. needs to ensure it has the resources to keep the country safe.
“North Korea is working to develop ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental United States. Iran is marching forward with its quest for regional hegemony by backing terrorism across the globe,” he said, adding they also need to take strides to prevent ISIS from inspiring domestic attacks.
“Then there are those countries that want to remake the world order in their authoritarian image,” Ryan continued. “Russia is trying to drive holes through NATO while threatening some of our closest allies in Eastern Europe, while Chinese aggression continues to stir instability in the South China Sea.”
Ryan said he’s concerned about the nation’s military readiness, saying the deficiencies are “costing us lives.”
“But, and this brings me to the second big reason this is so important: we have simply pushed our military past the breaking point,” he continued. “Instead of upgrading our hardware, we have let our equipment age. Instead of equipping our troops for tomorrow’s fight, we have let them become woefully underequipped.”
The speaker said Army modernization has been cut by half over the last eight years, less than half of the Navy’s aircraft are capable of flying, the majority of Marine Corps troops lack basic aircraft and the Air Force is at its smallest point in history.
“In total, we lost 80 lives due to training accidents in 2017 — nearly four times as many killed in combat. Just think about that for a second,” he said. “And the worst part is that these deaths may have been preventable. There is no excuse for that. We need to do better.”
Ryan said he believes Senate Democrats have stalled the process of passing a budget that fully funds the troops, noting the House has twice passed defense appropriations bills, adding by keeping the current caps in place they are “holding our national security hostage.”
“The Pentagon cannot plan for the future if it keeps operating under short-term spending bills. The days of budgetary uncertainty and underfunding need to end,” he said. “Doing so will allow us to modernize our forces and maintain a forward presence, bolstered by commanders having the rapid response capabilities they need.”
In addition to lifting the caps, Ryan said they need to audit the Department of Defense, reform the acquisition process and develop new technologies to ensure the Pentagon is operating at its maximum level of efficiency.
“In the past two years alone, we have enacted significant bipartisan reforms to streamline bureaucracy at the Pentagon, strengthen the military health care and retirement systems, and improve congressional oversight. This is a great start, but there is more work to be done.”
Ryan noted Secretary of Defense James Mattis is slated to unveil a National Defense Strategy Friday, telling the crowd he’s confident it will provide a strong path forward to advance the country’s national defense.
“We need a new military strategy for the 21st century. That means a military that is more lethal, agile, and robust. Nobody understands this better than Secretary Mattis,” he said. “And tomorrow, he will unveil a National Defense Strategy that provides a clear, unequivocal plan to ensure our military might never falters.”