Defending the United States
By Senator Mike Rounds
When I was working as governor of South Dakota, one of the most difficult parts of my job was sending off our men and women in uniform as they deployed overseas. I promised them I would do everything I could to make sure they came home safe and sound, and to take care of their families while they were gone. Working in the Senate now, the defense of our country and support for our troops are still two of my top priorities. As I’ve said many times, the most important responsibility of the federal government is to provide for our national defense. Unless that responsibility is fulfilled, the freedoms we enjoy every day are in jeopardy.
In the Senate, we need to pass a defense appropriations bill each year to provide the necessary resources for our troops to conduct operations around the globe. Yet, Senate Democrats have blocked the defense appropriations bill from even being debated six times in this Congress. They have chosen this path of obstruction apparently to use the defense appropriations bill as a bargaining chip for some other spending they may identify in the future.
Supporting our troops should not be a partisan issue. It should be an issue where we can find consensus, and I hope that it can be the first step toward moving the Senate back to what we call “regular order” with regard to the budget process. This means passing not only the defense appropriations bill but all of the appropriations bills one-by-one, so that we have the opportunity to debate and consider the merits of each bill individually. Regular order is an important way to keep our spending priorities in check.
Another issue that impacts our national security is our soaring national debt. Three-fourths of our budget—mandatory federal spending and the interest on the debt—is on auto-pilot, and Congress has little ability to debate the merits of that part of the budget through the appropriations process. This leaves one-quarter of the annual budget for everything else – from education and infrastructure to national defense. The result is that budget caps and other efforts to rein in costs are narrowly focused on the one-quarter of the budget which Congress controls. Unfortunately that includes defense – the primary responsibility of the federal government.
By cutting the amount we spend on defense, we are putting our nation’s security at risk. Sequestration has shrunk the size of our Army from 566,000 active-duty soldiers in 2011 to an estimated 450,000 at the end of 2017. This is despite the fact that threats against the United States continue to increase.
We made a promise to our troops that we would do everything we can to keep them safe. We should be prepared to make good on that promise. There is a very human price to underfunding our nation’s armed forces. It is our men and women in uniform who will hurt the most if Congress does not give them the tools they need to perform their jobs. It’s time to put aside our political arguments and agree on one thing: defending our great nation—and those who serve to protect it—is the primary responsibility of the federal government.