Our National Priorities: Endless Defense Spending or Working Families?

Delivered on the Senate floor June 12, 2018

Mr. President, I take this opportunity to thank Senators Reed and McCain for their very hard work on the Department of Defense authorization bill.

Unfortunately, I must vote against it, and I want to take this opportunity to explain why I am voting no, to talk about the amendments I am offering to this bill, and to express my serious concerns about our nation’s bloated military budget, particularly in light of the many unmet needs we face as a nation.

Also, I must express a very serious objection to the fact that we are dealing with a $716 billion bill, more than half of the discretionary budget, and yet at this time there is no process for amendments to be debated. That is simply unacceptable. Every member should be able to call up amendments on this important bill and their amendments voted on.

Mr. President, over and over again, our Republican colleagues and some of our Democratic colleagues have come down to the floor to complain about the $21 trillion national debt.

Over and over again, our Republican friends tell us that we cannot possibly afford to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care as a right to every man, woman and child through a Medicare for All program.

We have been told that we cannot afford to make public colleges and universities tuition free, or to make sure that everyone in America has access to affordable housing, childcare, or a good job that pays a living wage with good benefits.

Even though over half of older Americans have no retirement savings we have been told we need to cut Social Security.

But, Mr. President, when it comes to spending $716 billion on the military — more than the next ten countries combined — all of a sudden there is a deafening silence from my Republican colleagues about the deficit.

Mr. President, in my view, that is unacceptable.

The time is long overdue for us to take a hard look at the enormous amount of waste, at the cost overruns, at the fraud, and at the financial mismanagement that has plagued the Department of Defense for decades. That is why I am offering a bipartisan amendment along with Senators Grassley and Lee to end the absurdity of the Department of Defense being the only federal agency that has not undergone an audit.

Mr. President, according to a Gallup Poll in February, 65 percent of the American people oppose spending more money on the Department of Defense.

But instead of listening to the American people and substantially reducing the waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon, Congress passed, against my strong opposition, a $165 billion increase in defense spending over the next two years.

As a point of comparison, the increase in military spending that we recently approved is larger than the entire military budget of China, which spends around $150 billion a year on defense, as well as Russia, which spends about $61 billion on defense annually.

Mr. President, I believe in a strong national defense, but we cannot continue to give the Pentagon and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin a blank check, while we ignore the basic needs of working families. It’s about time we got our national priorities right.

Mr. President, about half of the Pentagon’s $716 billion budget goes directly into the hands of private contractors, not our troops.

And let’s be clear. Over the past two decades, virtually every major defense contractor in the United States has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements for misconduct and fraud — all while making huge profits on those government contracts.

Since 1995, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies have paid nearly $3 billion in fines or related settlements for fraud or misconduct. Yet, those three companies alone received about $800 billion in defense contracts over the past 18 years.

One of the amendments I have filed would simply require the Pentagon to establish a website on defense contract fraud with a list of companies convicted of defrauding the federal government, the total value of contracts awarded to such companies, and a list of recommendations for ways the Pentagon can penalize fraudulent contractors.

Further, Mr. President, I find it interesting that the very same defense contractors that have been found guilty or reached settlements for fraud are also paying their CEOs and executives excessive and obscene compensation packages.

Last year, the CEOs of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon — two of the top four U.S. defense contractors — were each paid over $20 million in total compensation. Moreover, more than 90 percent of the revenue from those companies came from defense spending.

I think the American people would like to know why a defense contractor can pay its CEO 100 times more than the Secretary of Defense whose salary is capped at $205,000. To my mind, that makes no sense.

That is why, Mr. President, I have filed an amendment to prohibit defense contractor CEOs from making more money than the Secretary of Defense.

Moreover, Mr. President, as the GAO has told us, there are massive cost overruns in the Defense Department’s acquisition budget that we have got to address.

According to GAO, the Pentagon’s $1.66 trillion acquisition portfolio currently suffers from more than $537 billion in cost overruns with much of the cost growth taking place after production.

GAO tells us that “many DoD programs fall short of cost, schedule, and performance expectations, meaning DoD pays more than anticipated, can buy less than expected, and, in some cases, delivers less capability to the warfighter.”

In my view, that has got to change.

Mr. President, let me repeat, a major reason why there is so much waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon is the fact that the Defense Department remains the only federal agency in America that hasn’t been able to pass an independent audit — 28 years after Congress required it to do so. The amendment that Senators Grassley, Lee and I have filed simply says that if the Pentagon can’t pass a clean audit by Fiscal Year 2022, then a small portion of the defense budget about $100 million will be redirected to deficit reduction.

On September 10, 2001, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “Our financial systems are decades old. According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions. We cannot share information from floor to floor in this building because it’s stored on dozens of technological systems that are inaccessible or incompatible.”

And yet, 17 years after Mr. Rumsfeld’s statement, DoD has still not passed a clean audit despite the fact that the Pentagon controls assets in excess of $2.2 trillion, or roughly 70 percent of what the entire federal government owns.

Mr. President, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded in 2011 that $31-$60 billion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan had been lost to fraud and waste.

The Pentagon

Separately, in 2015, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that the Pentagon could not account for $45 billion in funding for reconstruction projects.

And more recently, an audit conducted by Ernst & Young for the Defense Logistics Agency found that it could not properly account for some $800 million in construction projects.

Mr. President, it is time to hold the Defense Department to the same level of accountability as the rest of the government.

I would also like to talk about an amendment that to me makes enormous sense. In this bill, we are spending $716 billion in defense spending in order to protect the American people through the production of planes, bombs, guns, missiles, tanks, nuclear weapons, submarines and other weapons of destruction. This amendment would reduce the defense budget by one-tenth of one percent and use that money to make us safer by reaching out to people throughout the world in ways that bring us together through educational and cultural exchange programs. At the end of the day, people who know each other, people who enjoy music together, people whose kids go to schools in different countries will be less likely to hate each other and less likely to go to war against each other.

Dialogue cannot only take place between foreign ministers or diplomats at the United Nations. It should be taking place between people throughout the world at the grassroots level.

I was mayor of the city of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980’s, when the Soviet Union was our enemy. We established a sister city program with the Russian city of Yaroslavl, a program which still exists today. I will never forget seeing Russian boys and girls visiting Vermont, getting to know American kids, and becoming good friends. Hatred and wars are often based on fear and ignorance. The way to defeat this ignorance and diminish this fear is through meeting with others and understanding the way they see the world. Good foreign policy means building people to people relationships.

We should welcome young people from all over the world and all walks of life to spend time with our kids in American classrooms, while our kids, from all income levels, do the same abroad.

Promoting greater cultural awareness, understanding and cooperation emphasizes our common humanity, decreases conflict, and promotes our common security. Yet these programs are funded at a fraction of what we spend on defense.

By taking this tiny fraction from our defense budget and applying it to these exchange programs, we will send a message about the critical role that these exchanges play in supporting not only American security, but our common global security.

Now, on a separate note, Mr. President, since March 2015, the United States Armed Forces have been involved in hostilities between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen. I believe it is past time that we put an end to our unconstitutional and unauthorized participation in this war.

The truth about Yemen is that U.S. forces have been actively engaged in support of the Saudi coalition in this war, providing intelligence and aerial refueling of planes whose bombs have killed thousands of people and made this humanitarian crisis far worse.

Even now, as I speak, there are reports that an attack on the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah nby the Saudi-led coalition is imminent. Hodeidah is a key entry point for humanitarian aid into Yemen. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the country, Lisa Grande, said last week that “A military attack or siege on Hodeidah will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians… In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything — even their lives.”

The Trump administration has tried to justify our involvement in the Yemen war as necessary to push back on Iran. Well, another administration told us invading Iraq was necessary to confront Al Qaeda, and another told us the Vietnam War was necessary to contain Communism. None of that turned out to be true. We should have asked tougher questions then. We should have taken our Constitutional role more seriously.

I believe that we have become far too comfortable with the United States engaging in military interventions all over the world. We have now been in Afghanistan for nearly 17 years, the longest war in American history. Our troops are now in Syria under what I believe are questionable authorities, and the administration has indicated that it may broaden that mission even more.

The time is long overdue for Congress to reassert its constitutional role in determining when and where our country goes to war.

That is why I have filed a bi-partisan amendment along with Senators Lee, Murphy, Warren and several others would put an end to the U.S. refueling of Saudi-led coalition planes. This amendment will send a strong message that the U.S. will no longer participate in this humanitarian catastrophe.

Directly related to the conflict in Yemen is the issue of Iran. The Trump administration has repeatedly justified its support for the Saudi-Emirati war in terms of pushing back on Iran’s activities.

The Trump administration has signaled in many different ways that it intends to confront Iran. If anyone has any doubt, I would remind them that President Trump’s new National Security Adviser, John Bolton, wrote an article a few years ago that was titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” That’s pretty clear, wouldn’t you say?

I have very serious concerns that this administration could lead the United States into another major war in the Middle East — the last thing the American people want.

Let’s remember, the Bush administration told Americans, and told the whole world, that going to war with Iraq would produce a more stable and secure Middle East. The exact opposite turned out to be true. Today it is now broadly acknowledged that the Iraq war was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude.

I have filed an amendment to make it clear that Congress has not authorized the use of our Armed Forces against Iran, either in this bill, or any other bill and I hope my colleagues will support this amendment.

Mr. President, let me conclude by saying this. I think everybody in the Congress believes and understands that we need a strong defense — no debate about that — but we do not need a defense budget that is bloated, that is wasteful, and that has in it many areas of fraud.

I hope all of my colleagues remember what former President Dwight Eisenhower, a good Republican, said on April 16, 1953, just as he was leaving office which is as profound and as true today as when he said it 65 years ago. This is what he said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

I would ask all of my colleagues to remember what Eisenhower said. I thank the president and I yield the floor.