Deputy Secretary of Defense Nominee Dr. Kathleen Hicks Agrees with Senator Warren That We Could Lower Our $740 Billion Defense Budget To Better Reflect Our Priorities Without Sacrificing Our Security
"A budget is about priorities, and we continue to overinvest in defense while underinvesting in public health and so much more that would keep us safe and that would save lives."
Washington, DC - During today's Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Deputy Secretary of Defense Nominee Dr. Kathleen Hicks on her views of the $740 billion Department of Defense budget and if the budget could be lowered without sacrificing security to better reflect our priorities.
While 400,000 fellow Americans die, tens of millions go unemployed due to COVID-19, millions are lined up at food banks, and millions more are on the threshold of losing their homes and being put out on the street, we continue to overinvest in defense while underinvesting in public health that would keep us safe and save lives.
In response to Senator Warren, Dr. Hicks agreed that there are ways to rethink how we spend our money to save lives. Dr. Hicks also agreed that her review of nuclear weapons will not be merely a rubber stamp on existing nuclear strategy and programs.
U.S. Senate Armed Services
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And congratulations on your nomination, Dr. Hicks. I appreciated the opportunity to speak with you last week and enjoyed hearing your views on a range of topics.
You know, I have been very critical about the size of the defense budget. It's long been a concern of mine, but after the past year, watching more than 400,000 fellow Americans die, tens of millions unemployed due to COVID-19, millions more who are lined up at food banks and even millions more who are on the threshold of losing their homes and being put out on the street, spending $740 billion a year on this one piece of the federal budget is unconscionable. A budget is about priorities, and we continue to overinvest in defense while underinvesting in public health and so much more that would keep us safe and that would save lives.
So, let me ask the question this way: Dr. Hicks, do you believe that we can find ways to lower the topline budget number and then spend that money more effectively without sacrificing our security?
Dr. Hicks: Senator, first let me say, I agree with you the nation-- it has seen in this past year a crisis that is generational in this magnitude. And I certainly understand how it calls into question how-- what the priorities are across our government.
I also, though, believe that we are a nation that can afford the defense that it needs to have. And the focus sometimes it's about spending more, sometimes about spending less. The focus on the topline number can really obscure a more important conversation around what is it we want our military in the case of the Defense Department to do. And what hard choices are involved in getting it in a place to be capable of doing that, being transparent about the risk.
So, my view to your direct question is I do think there are ways for the Defense Department to be more efficient, to be more effective. I think some of those tools, as I've suggested, involve things like operational concept advancement, making the right kinds of investments, making sure we have a competitive industrial base. But, frankly some of the things, some of the levers that are available take a lot of partnership between Congress, the Executive branch, industry, and others to make some hard choices. It would be hard to significantly squeeze the defense budget in light of the threats that we face without that kind of effort together to get to some hard choices.
Senator Warren: Well, I'd like to make sure I understand your answer here. Are you saying here that, yes, we can reduce the topline number without sacrificing our security so long as we work together on this? Is that what I'm hearing you say?
Dr. Hicks: Yes. And so long as we're willing to make some decisions that may incur risk themselves. Yeah.
Senator Warren: Fair enough. So, one of your key tasks is going to be linking the military budget to our strategy and to the President's and Secretary Austin's priorities.
So, if President Biden directs Secretary Austin to lower the topline, and I hope he does, what will be the biggest challenges that you will have to overcome?
Dr. Hicks: I think the biggest challenges the balancing of the readiness for challenges of today -- threats of today -- and preparing for the future. That's sort of the overarching piece, but I think more to the mechanics of how we do that will be getting buy in and the constructive approach with again Congress working together with the administration and vice-versa in a dialogue and having industry and other stakeholders willing to come to the table for the greater good to get that done.
Senator Warren: Okay. You know, if confirmed, one of the first things you're going to need to do is review our nuclear weapons programs. And I know that you believe in a safe, and secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent, but we're going to spend $44.5 billion on nuclear weapons this year, which is more than the entire budget for the State Department and foreign operations accounts.
Will you commit that your review will not simply be a rubber stamp of our current nuclear strategy, but that you really will examine and re-question the core assumptions that underpin it?
Dr. Hicks: Absolutely, Senator.
Senator Warren: Good. I really appreciate that.
I want a strong defense, but I want one that is tailored to meet the real threats that we face. And more importantly, I want that defense to be built on a strong economic foundation here at home.
But that's not what we have today. We face staggering economic inequality that is only getting worse as a consequence of this crisis.
And yet the military continues to chug along, disconnected from this reality, plowing billions of dollars into the same, big, expensive weapons systems that we've been buying for more than twenty years.
We've got to fix this by fundamentally rethinking how we spend our money to protect our nation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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