Citing Inadequate Defense Funding, Sullivan Opposes Debt Limit Deal
Senate failed to adopt bipartisan Sullivan amendment redirecting IRS funds to national security
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) today voted against the House-passed debt limit and budget agreement citing the legislation’s significant inflation-adjusted cuts to defense spendingat one of the most dangerous times for U.S. national security in decades. The agreement passed the Senate by a vote of 63 to 36.
“I applaud Speaker McCarthy for his hard work in getting President Biden to negotiate a debt ceiling agreement that averts a default, reduces wasteful spending, and authorizes critically-needed permitting reforms—all of which I support. However, I could not vote for an agreement that fails one of the most critical duties of the United States Senate: adequately funding our military service members to provide for the security and defense of our nation,” said Sen. Sullivan. “This agreement inflicts significant inflation-adjusted cuts to our military, shrinking the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. This bill also will take the U.S. defense budget below three percent of GDP—a level we’ve seen just once in the past eighty years, during the peace dividend era of the late 1990s. We are not in a ‘peace dividend’ era today. Far from it. America’s military leaders all agree we are in the midst of one of the most dangerous periods for U.S. national security since World War II. This rushed budget simply does not meet the reality and the threats of this moment. I was disappointed that the vast majority of my Democratic colleagues voted against my amendment, which received bipartisan majority support and would have rectified some of these significant defense budget shortfalls.”
During consideration of the Fiscal Responsibility Act this evening, Sen. Sullivan offered an amendment to rescind more than $70 billion in previous Internal Revenue Service (IRS) appropriations in order to fund the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Fiscal Year 2024 unfunded priorities and to fund a five percent increase to the FY 2025 budget beyond the new FY 2024 defense budget topline. All Republican senators voting supported the Sullivan amendment, but it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold for adoption.
Earlier today, Senator Sullivan spoke on the Senate floor about the historical context of the debt agreement’s anemic defense funding. Below is a full transcript of those remarks.
Mr. President, I think my colleagues are making the really important point of the national security implications of the bill that we're looking at voting on. I agree with what my colleagues have already said. Speaker McCarthy had a difficult job. I think there's a lot in this debt agreement that's important, that's positive.
But the one thing we are not doing here—and by the way, Mr. President, it’s the most important thing we do as U.S. senators—is have a strategy for the national defense of our nation during an incredibly dangerous time globally. We're not doing that. We need a strategy already. My good friend from South Carolina mentioned some ideas. I'm going to touch on those.
But, Mr. President, let's just reiterate. You sit on the Armed Services Committee. Many of us do. We get witness after witness, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, saying this is the most dangerous time of any period in history, since World War II. That's the consensus. Not a lot of people would disagree with that. Authoritarian dictators with immense appetite for conquest are on the march. And, yet, what does this budget agreement do? It cuts defense spending significantly, as already mentioned.
Now, some people will say, well, look at the topline. We've never had a higher topline—800-plus billion dollars. Mr. President, as you know, the actual measure of how serious we are as a country isn't the topline. Because of inflation over the years, it's hard to compare the real measure of how serious we are in terms of what we're putting toward defense. The number one priority of the U.S. Congress should be, in my view, what percentage of our national wealth we're dedicating to defense.
This budget will take us in the next two years—with the cut this year, inflation-adjusted cut of 4 to 5 percent, and a nominal increase next year of 1 percent, which would be about a 5 to 6 percent cut—it will take us below the 3 percent of GDP number for defense for the first time since 1999, during the peace dividend era of the Clinton administration. We will be below 3 percent of GDP.
You look at different periods of American history—the Korean War, we're almost at 15 percent; Vietnam, 8 percent; Cold War, the Reagan build-up, almost 6 percent; Iraq, Afghanistan, War on Terror, 4 and a half percent. We're going to be going below 3 percent. This hasn't happened since 1999. And, before that, it's almost never happened in the history of the country, at least in the 20th century.
Mr. President, here's the most important point. In 1999, the threats to our nation weren't nearly as dramatic or serious as they are today. Nobody disagrees with that. What this budget does is just accept the Biden defense budget—which, as Senator Graham has already mentioned, shrinks the Army, shrinks the Navy, shrinks the Marine Corps. That's what it does. Fewer ships, not more ships. Smaller number of soldiers and Marines, not more. Accepting the Biden defense budget is actually something new during the Biden administration.
What do I mean by that, Mr. President?
As Senator Cotton mentioned, the last two Biden budgets came in with anemic numbers. In a bipartisan way, a strong bipartisan way, by the way, Democrats and Republicans significantly plussed up those budget numbers last year, a $45 billion dollar increase. So the weak Biden budget on the Armed Services Committee that every single senator on the committee voted for, except one. That’s about as bipartisan as you can get.
The year before, it was a $25 billion dollar plus-up. Mr. President, as many people know, we were already discussing in a bipartisan way on the Armed Services Committee another significant plus-up to this Biden budget. Democrats and Republicans knew it was weak and not sufficient to meet the challenges of today.
But what happened? The music stopped and, now, all of a sudden, we're accepting the Biden budget. I know Democrat senators who think that is wrong. They think that is wrong.
So one amendment I'm going to offer as we're debating this, Mr. President, is to do something very simple. It's to look at the Biden Pentagon's priority list, their unfunded priority list that this president and his Secretary of Defense put forward—It's $18 billion dollars, which the Armed Services Committee, in a bipartisan way, was already getting ready to agree to move forward and fund, and I'm going to ask my colleagues, let's fund it—at a minimum. Let's fund it.
We're not going to bust out of the top-line of this agreement. We'll just take that 18.4 billion dollars and move it from the $80 billion dollar IRS account and put it with the Pentagon. Pretty simple. The vote should be 100 to 0.
Do we want more Navy ships, more Marines—or more IRS agents during this very dangerous time? I think the answer is pretty clear. I think the American people know the answer.
So, Mr. President, Senator Cotton already mentioned this idea. The Speaker's talked about the need for more efficiencies in the Pentagon. I couldn't agree more. By the way, the Navy leadership right now, we need a lot more efficiencies out of that place. You have a Navy Secretary who's more focused on getting his climate plan out before his shipbuilding plan. The priorities in the Department of Navy right now are remarkably misaligned with real world challenges. What are those real world challenges?
Mr. President, I think you were there. We had a brief from some of our top intelligence agency officials. They came out—it was a classified briefing, but I asked them if this number was classified. They told me, “No.” They came out and said the real Chinese budget, in terms of military, is probably close to about $700 billion dollars. That's a big budget.
And, as Senator Cotton mentioned, they are increasing in real terms, six, seven, 8 percent—cranking out ships, cranking out fifth-generation aircraft. And we're going to cut the budget this year and dramatically cut it next year and go under 3 percent of GDP at one of the most dangerous times since the end of World War II.
As Senator Cotton also mentioned, the National Defense Commission that Congress authorized a number of years ago to look at the serious national security threats facing our country came back to the Armed Services Committee two years ago and said what we need to do to address these serious national security challenges from China, from Russia, from Iran. It is to have 3 to 5 percent real GDP or real growth on the defense budget that was broadly accepted by Democrats and Republicans. As a matter of fact, I think one of the members of that National Security Commission is now the deputy secretary of defense in the Biden administration.
But we're not even close. We're going backward, and Senator Graham's point about a supplemental to get Leader Schumer and the President to say we are going to have a supplemental for deterring authoritarian aggression is going to be critical. I would say, Mr. President, the vast majority of my colleagues here—Democrats and Republicans—would support that.
We need a serious, robust defense budget to deter war. If the young men and women who volunteer to serve in our military are asked to go fight a war, we need a strong budget so that they can come home victorious, not coming home in body bags. This is deadly serious business.
We're not putting enough attention to it. It's one of the number-one things in the U.S. Constitution demands—that we need to provide for the common defense to raise and support an Army, provide for and maintain a Navy. That's our job.
And, Mr. President, we're not doing it with this budget—this rushed budget. We need to get serious. And hopefully in the next few days we can do that as we debate this agreement. I yield the floor.
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