Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: President’s Proposed Budget Cuts Are the Wrong Direction for Our Country’s Defense

Posted on March 18, 2016

It’s hard to think of a finer group of Americans than the Tennessee National Guard. It’s a group that has demonstrated tremendous courage and made great sacrifices in defense of our country.  

A report by the National Commission on the Future of the Army said that we must continue to invest in the Guard to ensure they are properly trained and equipped. Unfortunately, the president’s proposed budget cuts take the country’s defense in exactly the wrong direction.

The Tennessee National Guard is the 4th most deployed and over the last 10 years has been all over the map protecting our nation – to Afghanistan, Iraq, parts of Africa, and Europe. The Guard has 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 help local and state officials control the fire. Without proper funding for training and equipment, that response would have been made more dangerous for the Guard, the local firefighters, the state officials they advised, and the nearly 5,000 people they helped evacuate.

This year, like every year, the president’s proposed budget zeroed out the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account. And if I have anything to say about it, Congress is going to put it right back in.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, I will continue to support efforts to restore funding 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.

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. Over the next ten years the part of the budget that Congress reviews, “discretionary spending,” is going to go from 32 percent 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. 

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

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

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