June 13, 2023

At Hearing, Marine Corps Commandant Nominee Commits to Prioritize Service Members and Families in the Budget

“We can’t expect the American people to continue to support huge budgets if we can’t even implement this kind of basic reform and discipline into the system.”

Video of Hearing Exchange (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pressed General Eric M. Smith, nominee to be reappointed as Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, on the importance of protecting funds to support our servicemembers and their families and avoid wasting taxpayer funds on wish list items. Senator Warren’s bipartisan and bicameral Streamline Pentagon Spending Act would eliminate the statutory requirement for the military services and combatant commands to submit requests for funding on top of their annual budget requests. 

General Smith also agreed with Senator Warren in her continued concern about the impact of Senator Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) blanket hold on senior military nominations on our national security and military readiness.

Transcript: Hearing to Consider the Nomination of General Eric M. Smith, USMC for Reappointment to the Grade of General and to be Commandant of the Marine Corps
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and congratulations, General Smith. It’s nice to see you here and have your family here. 

Our greatest strength as a nation is our people and it’s clear that you have a strong record of making sure that Marines have the support they need. You made that very clear in our conversations, but it's clear in your record.

One of the ways we communicate our priorities as a nation is through our budget. General Smith, do you agree that your priorities should be reflected in the budget you submit to Congress?

General Eric M. Smith, U.S. Marine Corps: Senator, absolutely. 

Senator Warren: Good, good. Unlike other parts of the federal government, the military services and combatant commands lobby Congress by sending a second request for billions of dollars on top of their annual budgets. They call them unfunded priorities. I call them wish lists. 

Under the recent budget agreement every other part of government is being asked to do more with less. As we discussed in our visit in my office, these wish lists are used to game the process and have included essential items like spare parts that clearly should have been in the base budget request. Last year the Army included funding for military housing in its wish list instead of its base budget.

If people are our strength, then programs that support them should not be relegated to the wish lists. General Smith, if you’re confirmed, it will be your job to advocate for your budget priorities and decide what’s going to make it into your wish list. Will you commit to not including funding for programs that support service members and their families in your unfunded priorities list and instead to put those costs into your base budget?

General Smith: Senator, I am committed to making sure, if confirmed, that our priorities of people are in fact reflected in our budget. What I would offer, ma’am, is, in rare circumstances, for example, a hurricane just hit Guam. That was certainly not something we anticipated months ago when the budget was submitted to simply seeking counsel and guidance from this committee, and our civilian oversight to ensure those families are still taken care of, irrespective of the exact timeline.

Senator Warren: As you know, we have procedures for dealing with emergencies that have come up since the time the budget has been submitted, but I think it’s really important that we back away from this very damaging practice. 

I have a bipartisan bill with Senators King, Lee, and Braun, and which the Department of the Defense supports, to eliminate the statutory requirement to produce these annual wish lists. We can’t expect the American people to continue to support huge budgets if we can’t even implement this kind of basic reform and discipline into the system. So that’s one issue I wanted to raise, but I want to raise one more.

I don’t have a lot of time left, but I wanted to touch on the impact the across-the-board holds on military nominations have on our national security. Secretary Austin sent me a letter that said “The longer that this hold persists, the greater the risk the U.S. military runs in every theater, every domain, and every service.”

You touched on another part of this in your testimony last month, noting that 45,000 Marines are going to be without a three star commander.

Those who support these holds say that all we’re talking about is holds on something that impacts senior officers and only senior officers will be affected and so that’s all right.

General Smith, can you just speak for a minute about what the downstream effects that you see are and what it means if these holds continue?

General Smith: Yes, ma’am. Your point, as I referenced a little bit earlier, the First Marine Expeditionary Force, Third Marine Expeditionary Force, Secondary Marine Expeditionary Force, our warfighters forward should have a three star and a one star. 

In the cases where those commanders will retire after almost 40 years of service, that will leave a one star in charge. And it's not that these one stars are not capable, but I've been doing this for 36 years. So as I walk a flight line, or as I walk a firing range, or as I walk through a barracks, there's a high likelihood there's not much I haven't seen, and I can fix things before they get started. 

That experience, that leadership that comes only with experience, is vital because it's about not getting yourself into a bad position, not making the decision that a more junior officer might make that then has subsequent second and third order effects which do in fact lead to readiness, which our readiness is national security.

Senator Warren: In other words, I’m hearing you say that these holds affect, not just those people who are identified as having their promotions held up, but they affect the entire operation.

General Smith: Yes, ma’am. 

Senator Warren: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.