Event Wrap-Up: Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) on U.S. National Security

March 25, 2015

On Monday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) spoke about U.S. national security and the importance of military strength at an event co-sponsored by FPI and the American Action Forum (AAF). Following his address, there was a panel discussion featuring Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the president of AAF, and David Adesnik, policy director at FPI.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes that lawmakers and staff will benefit from the following insights offered at Monday’s event as they consider how to repair the damage done by sequestration and rebuild the U.S. military. A full video of the event is also available, courtesy of C-SPAN.


Growing Threats to U.S. National Security

“Our enemies, sensing weakness and hence opportunity, have become steadily more aggressive. Our allies, uncertain of our commitment and capabilities, have begun to conclude that they must look out for themselves, even if it’s unhelpful to global stability and order.” – Sen. Tom Cotton

“Only when we demonstrate military strength and moral confidence in the defense of America’s national security will we make war less likely in the first place. Our enemies and our allies alike will and must know that aggressors will pay an unspeakable price for challenging the United States.” – Sen. Tom Cotton

America’s Declining Investment in Military Strength

“Make no mistake, our military capabilities have declined. Today, defense spending is only 16 percent of all federal spending, a historic low rivaled only by the post-Cold War period. To give some context, during the Cold War, defense spending regularly accounted for 60 percent of all federal spending, but if we don’t end the experiment with retreat this President will leave office with a mere 12 percent of all federal dollars spent on defense.” – Sen. Tom Cotton

“The defense budget has been slashed by hundreds of billions of dollars over the last six years … Using the broadest measure of affordability and national priorities, defense spending as a percentage of our economy, last year we only spent 3.5 percent of our national income on defense … To provide some context, when Ronald Reagan took office we spent 5 percent of our national income on defense.” – Sen. Tom Cotton

The Impact on our Armed Forces

“First, our military does face a readiness crisis, from budget cuts and a decade of war. We must act immediately to get our forces back in fighting shape, from live-fire ranges to flight time, and so forth. Second, and related, our military is shrinking rapidly to historically small levels. This decline must be reversed, in end strengths of the Army and Marine Corps, the number of platforms in the Air Force and the Navy. Third, we must also increase research and development and procurement funds to ensure our military retains its historic technological advantage, particularly as our adversaries gain more access to advanced, low cost technologies.” – Sen. Tom Cotton

“Today’s weapons systems and equipment will age and begin to break down; our troops won’t be able to train and their weapons and equipment won’t be ready for the fight. In short, we will have a hollow force, incapable of defending our national security.” – Sen. Tom Cotton

The Proposed FY2016 Budget

“This week the Senate budget resolution will reflect a base defense budget of $523 billion dollars and emergency supplemental spending of $89 billion dollars. While better than the defense spending mandated by the Budget Control Act, this is still insufficient given our readiness crisis, the shrinking size of our military, and the immediate need to modernize aircraft, ships, vehicles, and so forth. The National Defense Panel, a bipartisan group of eminent national security experts convened by Congress, unanimously recommended a $600 billion dollar floor for the defense budget – not a ceiling. I agree that $611 billion dollars is necessary and I agree it’s also not sufficient.” – Sen. Tom Cotton

“Thirty-nine extra billion dollars in OCO or war spending isn’t the same defense budget as plussing up the base budget.” – Mackenzie Eaglen

“What we’ve already seen in recent Congresses are members banding together on the left and the right to strip OCO money that wasn’t requested by the Pentagon … However it [i.e. the defense budget] turns out, it’s definitely not going to be the number we’re talking about this week for defense, it will be a number lower. That’s a fact, that’s a guarantee.” – Mackenzie Eaglen

Reaching A Deal on Defense

“The outlines of the deal are pretty clear, and the tools, I think, are there to get it done, so you’ll spend more in the base budget on defense, and you’ll exceed the caps. The price will be more nondefense spending; the President will demand it, the Democrats will demand it.” – Douglas Holtz-Eakin

“I believe the President when he says he’ll veto a defense budget that comes in at caps regardless of what the OCO does. He’s going to do that, and so that’s why I know that we’re going to start this fiscal year with a Continuing Resolution unfortunately.” – Mackenzie Eaglen

“Congress has done it [i.e. made deals] twice already and we know they’re going to do it again with the Price-Enzi deal, some kind of follow on to the Ryan-Murray, but they’re not going to do it until they’ve exhausted every other available option and they’ve gone through this long, torturous path to get there.” – Mackenzie Eaglen

“The President came in above the caps. He’s laid down a marker, and yes: there will be a price which is the nondefense discretionary spending. Yes, there will be people who hate that, but that’s the nature of deals. Deals are not clean victories; they are coalitions of the disgruntled getting half of what they want.” – Douglas Holtz-Eakin

The Runaway Cost of Entitlements

“The fact is we have sequestration because there’s never been either the political will or the right answer that helps people take on entitlements which are almost entirely domestic spending. So when you really look at it, when you hear Senator Cotton say that anywhere from 12-17 percent of [the budget]– from this year out to the next five years – is consumed by defense spending, that means 80 percent-plus is on non-defense spending, overwhelmingly on the increasing share that goes to entitlements.” – David Adesnik

“The larger budgetary dynamics have been in play for some time. It has been utterly foreseeable that the baby boom generation would age one year at a time every year, and that ultimately we would get to the point as we are now, where we get 10,000 new beneficiaries every day flowing into Social Security, flowing into Medicare, where we see rising spending on Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, the other components of entitlements, or so-called mandatory spending … It’s driving out of the budget the kinds of things the Founders would have recognized as the role of government. It’s driving out investments in infrastructure and research on the non-defense side; it’s driving out spending on national security.” – Douglas Holtz-Eakin

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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