Alexander to Tenn. National Guard: President’s Proposed Budget Cuts “Exactly the Wrong Direction for Our Country’s Defense"

Posted on March 12, 2016

Says every year Congress puts back funding for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account that the president zeroes out

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“No one can do more with less than the National Guard – but that’s not the way it should be. … I will continue to support congressional efforts to provide funding to the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve.”

MURFREESBORO, Tenn., March 12, 2016 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told the Tennessee National Guard today he would work to restore critical funding for the Guard that was not included in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget.

“Unfortunately, the president’s budget goes in exactly the wrong direction for our country’s defense. Every year, the president zeroes out the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account, and every year we in Congress put it back in,” Alexander told Guard members. “This funding is critical for the Guard, because it helps pay for the equipment you need and maintain and modernize the equipment you have. Congress restores this funding every year because we know the Guard is no longer a ‘ready reserve.’ It’s a truly operational fighting force that’s an essential part of our military.”

Speaking at the 87th annual conference of the National Guard Association of Tennessee, Alexander said Tennesseans know the men and women of the Tennessee National Guard need our country’s full support in order to carry out their missions and that he will continue to make sure meeting their needs is a top priority in Congress. 

“No one can do more with less than the National Guard – but that’s not the way it should be. … I will continue to support congressional efforts to provide funding to the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve.”

Sen. Alexander’s full remarks follow:

Good morning, it is an honor to be here to speak with you today. 

It’s hard to think of a finer group of Tennesseans – and Americans – than the National Guard Association of Tennessee.

One of the greatest privileges of being the Governor of Tennessee is being the commander-in-chief of the best Army National Guard and Air National Guard in the country. Today that includes 10,044 Army Guardsmen and 3,308 Air Guardsmen from across Tennessee.

I’d like to thank Maj. Gen. Max Haston, Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett and Lt. Col. Jim Reed for their service and their leadership of the Guard. And I’d like to thank Gov. Bill Haslam for his hard work and leadership in the state.

You know, Tennessee has a lot to be proud of when it comes to our members of the military.

Early this year, I attended a ceremony at the Israeli Embassy to honor Knoxville native Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, who was posthumously awarded the “Righteous Among Nations” award for his courage saving Jewish-American soldiers during World War II.

It’s the highest honor the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum awards to non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust.

For those who don’t know his story, Sgt. Edmonds was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and held at a Nazi prisoner of war camp for 100 days.

When the German commander of the camp ordered the Jewish-American soldiers held there to identify themselves, Sgt. Edmonds stepped forward and said, “We are all Jews here.”

Even when the Nazi commander held a pistol to Sgt. Edmond’s head, he didn’t budge.

The Nazi commander eventually backed down, and Sgt. Edmonds’ bravery saved hundreds of Jewish-American soldiers that day. 

That’s real courage – and quite a legacy for Tennesseans who serve in the military. 

I know all of you in this room have demonstrated tremendous courage and make great sacrifices in defense of our country. 

Tennessee is the 17th largest state by population. But the Tennessee National Guard is the 4th most deployed.

Over the last 10 years, members of the Tennessee National Guard have been all over the map protecting our nation – to Afghanistan, Iraq, parts of Africa and Europe.

The National Guard plays a vital role in our national security and is integral to our nation’s military.

I learned that as governor of Tennessee.

But in January, the National Commission on the Future of the Army report put that in writing.

This isn’t just any report – it's a big deal. The commission was asked to look at the size and structure of the Army. And Congress is using the commission’s recommendations to make decisions about how to fund the Army and National Guard.

The report said the three components of our nation’s army - the Reserve, the Guard and Active duty -  ‘are distinct, interdependent, and essential. Combined, they form America’s Army, the best in the world, a Total Force providing land forces and strategic depth to the Joint Force for homeland defense and power projection.’

The report also said something else everyone in this room knows: That we must continue to invest in the Guard to ensure you are properly trained and properly equipped when you are deployed overseas – and when you are deployed here at home to help friends and neighbors in times of crisis.

The same is true for our Air National Guard, which the Air Force Commission said two years ago.

You brave men and women go to some of the most dangerous places on Earth and fight side-by-side with our active duty forces. You have served and represented our state with distinction. 

You’ve also kept us safe at home by responding to disasters like the recent CSX train derailment in Maryville, my home town.

When that disaster struck, the 45th Civil Support Team members were some of the first to respond and helped local and state officials control the fire and get thousands of people to safety away from dangerous chemicals potentially in the air and water.

Without proper funding for training and equipment, that response would have been made more dangerous for the 45th Civil Support Team – and the local firefighters and state officials they advised, and the nearly 5,000 people they helped evacuate. 

Unfortunately, the president’s budget goes in exactly the wrong direction for our country’s defense.

Every year, the president zeroes out the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account, and every year Congress puts the funding back in.

This funding is critical for the Guard because it helps pay for the equipment you need and maintain and modernize the equipment you have. 

Congress restores this funding every year because we know the Guard is no longer a ‘ready reserve.’ It’s a truly operational fighting force that’s an essential part of our military.

No one can do more with less than the National Guard – but that’s not the way it should be.

I am a member of the Senate appropriations committee, and I will continue to support congressional efforts to provide funding to the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve.

But funding the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account is only a small part of a bigger problem we are having with defense spending.

The president and others resist increasing defense spending citing our nation’s debt, but defense spending has not gotten us into our fiscal crisis, and cutting defense spending won’t get us out of it. 

Our nation’s $19 trillion debt is caused primarily by out-of-control spending on entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. These programs are paid for through what’s called “mandatory funding” which means Congress doesn’t get to review it every year through the appropriations process. 

Spending on our national defense is what’s called ‘discretionary spending,’ and it is reviewed by Congress each year.

Over the next decade, discretionary spending is going to go from 32 percent of the budget to 22 percent of the budget. 

In other words, mandatory spending and interest on our $19 trillion debt are going to squeeze out important discretionary spending priorities, like making sure the National Guard has the resources it needs.

So while I’m working to fund our defense priorities this year – I’m also working to fix our bigger spending problem so we can fund our defense priorities in the future. 

Thank you again for inviting me here to speak with you today.

I want to remind you all of something before I finish.

While it’s an honor to speak – the greater honor is actually to listen to the things you have to say to me.

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