Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) pulled no punches on the Senate floor Thursday, warning fellow lawmakers that anyone who votes against a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 "better never say" that they love the military ever again.
"If we say no to this amendment, God help us all," Graham declared angrily. "And you own it, you own the state of high risk. If you vote no, then as far as I am concerned, you better never say I love the military anymore. Because if you really loved them you would do something about it."
Graham was referring to an amendment introduced by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who was on the Senate floor Thursday morning with Graham to persuade senators to approve his provision.
The amendment, which the Senate voted down hours later on a 56-42 vote, called for an $18 billion increase in defense spending to the Overseas Contingency Operations war budget, which would go toward military priorities not funded by the president’s budget request. Specifically, the money would fund additional ship and aircraft purchases that the military services say they need, including $2.5 billion for Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, about $1 billion for Army aircraft procurement, and $385 million for an additional littoral combat.
Thirteen Democrats voted for the amendment, while 11 Republicans voted against it. Most Democrats rejected the proposal because it added money above budget caps set by last year’s budget deal and said they would not vote for it without an equal increase in domestic spending.
Sen. Jack Reed (D., R.I.) introduced a second-degree amendment to McCain’s proposal, which was also voted down by a 43-55 margin, that would have added $18 billion in domestic spending to the $18 billion meant for defense.
"Anybody who doesn’t believe there’s an emergency in the United States military is not listening to the United States military," Graham said Thursday in a plea to get the amendment passed. "And you have not been following the consequences of what we’ve done over the last five, six years in terms of cuts to the military."
Graham detailed how the United States has cut about $1 trillion over the past seven or eight years from the military and is "on track to have the smallest army since 1940, the smallest navy since 1915, the smallest air force in modern times. We’re on track to spend half of what we normally spend in times of war."
The senator added that the United States normally spends about 4.5 percent of its gross domestic product to defend the country but is now on track to only spend 2.3 percent of GDP by the year 2021.
Analysts have noted that the military has been steadily downsized over the course of the Obama administration, with the number of active-duty ships in the Navy reduced to pre-World War I levels and the Marine Corps the smallest it has been since the Korean War in the early 1950s. The size of the Army has been reduced as well.
Graham described the state of the military as a national emergency, citing the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, who has said, "I characterize us in this current state at high military risk." Gen. Milley has also told lawmakers, along with Gen. John Allen, that less than one-third of Army forces are at acceptable levels of readiness and are "not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them."
"This $18 billion will restore money that has been taken out, that will have a beneficial effect now and is absolutely essential," Graham said. "It will give [the Army] 15,000 more people … We need more people in the Army, not less. [It will provide] 3,000 more Marines … Here’s what I say, let’s hire more Marines.
"The whole theory of this amendment is that we’ve let this deteriorate to the point that we have an emergency situation where we are putting our men and women’s lives at risk because they don’t have the equipment they need, the training opportunities they deserve to fight the war that we can’t afford to lose … This is not nearly what we need, but this $18 billion will provide some needed relief to the people who have been fighting this war for 15 years."
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers in March that the U.S. military currently is not prepared or capable across all the service branches of addressing the threats facing the country, in part because of an "unstable fiscal environment."
He added that the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps will not be sufficiently ready to counter the challenges they need to until possibly 2020, and the Air Force likely will not reach that point until 2028.
"And you’re going to vote no because you’re worried about budget caps," Graham said. "‘Oh, we love the military.’ Everybody loves the military. Well, your love doesn’t help them. Your love doesn’t buy them a damn thing. If you love these men and women, you will adequately fund their needs. If you care about them and their families, you will adjust the budget so they can fight a war on our behalf."
Graham described how if sequestration, automatic across-the-board spending cuts, was fully implemented, it would "gut" the military and key non-defense programs but would do nothing to change the debt.
"So don’t go around telling people you’re getting us to a balanced budget. You’re not. The money is in entitlements, and we’re not doing a damn thing about it," Graham said.
"It looks like one thing we can agree on—libertarians, vegetarians, Republicans, and Democrats: that those who are fighting this war deserve better than we’re giving them," he added.