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Opening Summary -- House Armed Services Committee (Budget Request)

Thank you very much, Chairman Thornberry. Thank you, Congresswoman Davis, thank you also. And all the members of the committee, thank you for having me here today. It’s a pleasure to be with you once again.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many of you before, but this is my first time testifying as the Secretary of Defense. And I know that all of you, all of you on the committee, including the 23 veterans on this committee, share the same devotion that I do to what is the finest fighting force the world has ever known – and to the defense of our great country. And I thank you for that. And I hope that my tenure as Secretary of Defense will be marked by partnership with you on their behalf.

I’m here to present the President’s budget for the Department of Defense for this year – Fiscal Year 2016 – and I strongly support the President in requesting a defense budget above the artificial caps of the Budget Control Act – that is, above so-called sequester levels – next year, and in the years thereafter. I also share the President’s desire to find a way forward that upholds the fundamental principles behind the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. And I support his commitment to vetoing any bill that locks in sequestration. Because to do otherwise would be both unsafe and wasteful.

The Administration’s therefore proposing to increase the defense budget in line with the projections submitted to Congress last year – halting the decline in defense spending imposed by the Budget Control Act, while giving us the resources we need to execute our nation’s defense strategy. As the Chairman noted, strategy comes first. And that’s the appropriate way to think about the budget.

But – and I want to be very clear about this – under sequestration, which is set to return in 197 days, our nation will be less secure.

And Mr. Chairman, as you and your colleagues have said, sequestration threatens our military’s readiness. It threatens the size of our warfighting forces, the capabilities of our air and naval fleets, and ultimately, the lives of our men and women in uniform. And the Joint Chiefs have said the same.

And the great tragedy is that this corrosive damage to our national security is not a result of objective factors, logic, or reason. Instead, sequester is purely the fallout of political gridlock. Its purpose was to compel prudent compromise on our long-term fiscal challenges – a compromise that never came.

And this has been compounded in recent years, because the Defense Department has suffered a double whammy – the worst of both worlds – that has coupled mindless sequestration with constraints on our ability to reform. We need your help with both.

And I know that Chairman Thornberry, Ranking Member Smith, and others on this committee are as dedicated to reform as I am. And I appreciate the – your dedication to it and the opportunity to work with you, because we at the Pentagon can and we must do better at getting value for the defense dollar. There are significant savings to be found across DoD, and we’re committed to pursuing them.

But at the same time, I have to note that in the past several years, painful but necessary reforms proposed by DoD – reforms involving elimination of overhead and unneeded infrastructure, retirement of older systems, and reasonable adjustments in compensation – have been denied by Congress at the same time that sequestration has loomed.

If confronted with sequestration-level budgets, and continued obstacles to reform, I do not believe that we can simply keep making incremental cuts. We would have to change the shape and not just the size of our military – significantly impacting parts of our defense strategy. We cannot meet sequester with further half-measures.

As Secretary of Defense, I will not send troops into a fight with outdated equipment, inadequate readiness, or ineffective doctrine. But everything else is on the table – including parts of our budget that have long been considered inviolate.

This may lead to decisions that no Americans – including members of Congress – want us to make.

And, now, I’m not afraid to ask the difficult questions. But if we’re stuck with sequestration’s budget cuts over the long term, our entire nation will have to live with the answers.

So instead of sequestration, I urge you to embrace the alternative – the alternative: building the force of the future, powerful enough to underwrite our strategy, equipped with boldly new technology, as the Chairman stressed. Leading in domains like cyber and space, being lean and efficient throughout the enterprise, showing resolve to friends and potential foes alike, and attracting and retaining the best Americans to our mission – Americans like the elite cyber warriors I met last week when I visited our Cyber Command. That’s the alternative that we can have without sequestration.

So, Mr. Chairman, the world in 2014 was more complicated than anyone could have predicted. Given today’s security environment, the President’s proposed increase in defense spending over last year’s budget is responsible, prudent, and essential for providing our troops what they need, and what they fully deserve.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.