Senator Wicker Leads Armed Services Republicans in Hearing with SECDEF, Chairman of Joint Chiefs

Top National Security Officials Testify Before Committee

April 9, 2024

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, led his colleagues in a hearing with Secretary of Defense Hon. Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Q. “C.Q.” Brown, Jr., U.S. Air Force. This hearing was the first time Biden administration officials have defended this year’s defense budget request before the committee.


In his opening remarks, Senator Wicker spoke to the urgent need to increase the defense budget given the sharply worsened national security environment since Secretary Austin and General Brown last appeared before the committee.


Read Senator Wicker’s opening statement as delivered below or watch it here.


Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Today’s hearing is an opportunity to take stock of our national security over the past year and examine how the Department of Defense is preparing for the future.


Unfortunately, the security environment, as we all know, has deteriorated significantly since we last had this hearing. Armed conflict is ongoing on multiple continents, regional instability threatens peace, and prosperity, and freedom around the world, and several malign nations are forming a new axis of evil.


We are approaching a window of maximum danger. Despite this, our government is failing to modernize our defense capabilities and to provide sufficient resources to fund our National Defense Strategy.


Xi Jinping will continue China’s historic military modernization with another 7.2 percent defense budget increase this year. China’s military production rates, advanced training improvements, and innovation strategies are troubling, and they’re stunning. In addition to Xi’s designs on Taiwan, there is a very real prospect of Chinese action against our Filipino treaty allies in the South China Sea. Both will test American resolve.


Outgunned and outmanned, the brave defenders in Ukraine have exceeded expectations in holding the line against the Russian dictator Putin’s army. If Congress passes a supplemental, we can help Ukraine win. But to make that happen, the Biden administration will need to articulate a real plan for provisioning and training Ukrainian forces at scale once Congress passes the supplemental appropriation bill.


And I share the Chair’s comments about the decision that the House of Representatives, led by the Speaker, will have to make this week. This is an occasion that history that will look back on. This is a time for statesmanship and bipartisanship, and I certainly share the Chair’s hope that this supplemental will be enacted and signed into law very, very soon.


I’m disappointed in the “drip, drip, drip” approach to military aid that has characterized this administration’s policy thus far.


As to General Brown, I would appreciate your comments on the situation in Ukraine and whether a more timely, aggressive posture toward training and equipping the Ukrainians is called for after the hopeful passage of the supplemental.


U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria led to a temporary pause by Iran-backed terrorist groups, but those attacks have restarted. By contrast, we have still not figured out how to compel the Houthis to stop attacking maritime trade. I would remind my colleagues that Central Command, per National Defense Strategy, was supposed to be an “economy of force” theater in which we relied upon our allies. Instead, the administration has ignored our allies and partners – for the most part – in the Middle East, and the damage to long-term U.S. interests could be profound.


We face threats on multiple fronts. On top of that, the threats are worsening at a pace that our National Defense Strategy simply does not contemplate. Secretary Austin and General Brown, I would welcome both of your comments on whether you think it is time to actually rewrite that National Defense Strategy. Is it adequate for the threats that I’ve mentioned?


And let me say this with regard to my good friend’s comments with regard to the caps in the Fiscal Responsibility Act. I disagree that the administration was prevented from asking more for national security and national defense than is contained in the Fiscal Responsibility Act cap.


As a matter of fact, the president’s budget request for FY25 with regard to domestic spending is some $76 billion over the fiscal responsibility cap. And for some reason, the administration chose to adhere to that cap only with regard to our most important duties – and that is defending this country and making sure our national security is in order.


So, we’ll have a discussion about that. And I do have confidence that working together with either side of the dais, the Chair and I will be able to work alongside the committee members and get closer to where we need to be with regard to defending our country and keeping the peace.


What is alarming – more than that – and should be clear to members on both sides of the aisle – is that our budgetary resourcing does not meet even the inadequate defense strategy we do have. We’re dealing with a recruitment crisis, a languishing industrial base, an acquisition bureaucracy, and massive maintenance backlogs.


We need to invest more, and we need to invest more wisely. We should cut red tape, speed up the acquisition process, guard against unnecessary requirements creep, and use more innovative companies, which can respond to defense needs at the speed of relevance.


More military spending is absolutely necessary, but it alone will not fix our problems.


We can never directly outspend the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, for example, and their other forms of predatory investment. However, we have the deepest and broadest capital markets in the world. They can be used on behalf of the American people living inside the United States, and we should actively work to bring those capital markets to bear outside the United States for national security purposes. Mr. Secretary, you championed the Office of Strategic Capital, and the team there can do this work, if you direct them to.


Mr. Secretary, we have much work to do, no time to lose. Unfortunately, the last time we were together, we discussed what I can only describe as – and I must say this – the contempt with which this administration has treated Congress.


When we pass a law and the President signs it into law, that is the law of the land. And we would appreciate it being adhered to by the administration. Your responsiveness to many of my simple inquiries, Mr. Secretary, has been lacking, to say the least.


To take but two examples, you failed to follow the law and canceled the sea-launched cruise missile, again. We’ll of course have to revisit that in the NDAA. And you have decided not to implement my provision from the MERIT Act, again, which has been enacted by both Houses and signed by the President.


Your department has also failed to act on simple provisions of law, which would help repair the relationship between you and the elected representatives of the public in Congress.


I hope we can fix these issues this year.


Thank you, Senator Reed.


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