I’d say it’s my time on the Senate’s Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees that makes me so passionate about Missouri’s role in our nation’s defense — but really, it’s a family thing.
My dad, who grew up in Houston, served in World War II—he was a humble guy, and we didn’t even know had been awarded a Bronze Star until after he passed away. As kids, he taught us to always say “thank you” and show respect to anyone in uniform.
Well, some elected leaders in Congress need to hear that same advice. Because they’re trying to fund our military in a way that’s dishonest, disrespectful and dangerous.
On my tour of Missouri’s military installations last week, I saw and heard a lot. And frankly, I learn a lot more by hearing from folks on the ground — from the soldiers and sirmen in basic training, to the base commanders — than I do from the four-star generals who visit my office in the Senate.
At Whiteman Air Force Base, I heard about the incredible capabilities of our B-2 bombers and drone operators. At Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, I heard about cutting-edge cybersecurity efforts. And in Kansas City I learned about modernization efforts with our nuclear weapons capabilities.
I had the chance to hear from military families in Jefferson City, and my tour of the Guard’s aviation maintenance facility in Springfield left me impressed with both the technical expertise and cost-saving techniques of the men and women there. My visit to St. Joe’s 139th Airlift Wing left me more confident than ever in the incredible training capabilities there.
And one of my most inspiring stops was at Fort Leonard Wood, where I met soldiers in the midst of the pioneering gender-integrated basic training, and the highly trained soldiers taking part in the Best Warrior Competition — the “Super Bowl” of Army competitions — which tests soldiers in urban warfare simulations, board interviews, physical fitness tests, written exams, and warrior tasks and battle drills.
From start to finish, I believe the men and women I met, who are serving every day to defend our freedoms, deserve honesty from their elected leaders.
To make our country and our communities more secure, they need the resources to do it. But Republican leaders in the U.S. House refuse to properly budget for our military operations.
Budget caps are scheduled to force more cuts in the military’s force size. I want to avoid that, and I’ve been pushing Congressional leaders to address those budget caps, and secure investments in both defense needs, and our security needs at home.
Instead, U.S. House leadership has decided to pump resources into the Pentagon’s off-the-books war budget, known as the “Overseas Contingency Operations” fund, which is supposed to be used for operations like the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. Now it’s being treated like a slush fund to pay for typical base-budget needs, and avoid making tough decisions about the budget caps. It’s dishonest, because the fund does not have to be transparently accounted for — but it’s also dangerous, because it can’t be used by military leaders to maintain force size.
That means that under the House plan, the Department of Defense is slated to run out of war funding halfway through the 2017 fiscal year.
We’ve got to address our military spending in a transparent way, by putting everything on the books and being honest with the American people about what we’re spending on our security needs. Congressional leaders can’t keep hiding the ball.
Our military would never lay down arms in the middle of a fight. We can’t do so when it comes to their budget.
So as I return to the Senate, I plan to take all of this feedback and keep fighting for Missouri’s military—the best of the best—to ensure they have what they need to get the job done, and that their leaders are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is a senior member of the Senate’s Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees.