Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz Statement at the Fiscal Year 2024 Military Construction Budget Request Hearing

2023-03-23 14:41

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Ranking Member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for Military Construction:

Welcome Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Lieutenant General Vereen.

Today, I’m looking forward to hearing how the Fiscal Year 2024 budget would improve the readiness of the Department of the Army and the condition and resilience of its infrastructure.

I hope to hear how the projects the Army proposes to fund would improve the quality of life of our servicemembers and their families.

The budget requests $1.5 billion for Army Military Construction, $340 million for Army National Guard, and $107 million for Army Reserve.

Congress has sent repeated messages with our funding and yet, all of the Army’s requests this year are once again less than the funding this committee provided most recently in Fiscal Year 2023.

However, it is a step in the right direction that the budget requests for the Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve, are all at least larger than the Fiscal Year 2023 budget requests.

I am pleased to see the Army requested $305 million for Family Housing Construction this year. This funding is vital to ensuring the quality of housing for our servicemembers and their families.

From mitigating the threat from earthquakes, providing safer housing for servicemembers and their families, strengthening our deterrent capabilities in the pacific, to cleaning up harmful substances like PFAS, there is much work that needs to be done in the year ahead. Military construction funding for the Army continues to be an important priority.

Our witnesses and other Army leaders have the unenviable task of weighing all of the readiness and quality of life considerations during the process of selecting projects the budget will prioritize. I am pleased that through community project funding we have been able to ameliorate some of these tradeoffs in our districts.

However, for those reasons and many more, it is essential we keep progressing forward, and do not revert back to lower funding levels. I am sure you agree with that.

I also would like to hear from our witnesses today how the increased investments this committee has already made over the last several years in response to the privatized housing crisis, PFAS remediation, and efforts to make our installations more resilient to climate change are being utilized.

While I believe it is important to continue these important and lifesaving investments, it is even more important to ensure we do not go backwards and undo the progress we have made. And we have made this progress as a committee together. I think you’ll find, and lots of committees say this, I think you’ll find that this subcommittee is among the—if not the—most bipartisan subcommittee perhaps in the Congress.

Republican Leadership has made public promises to cut back spending to 2022 levels. If they go through with these reckless and draconian cuts, projects which protect and improve the lives of our servicemembers and their families are at risk.

The Army would need to decide between mission critical requirements and quality of life investments that are so crucial to support the readiness of our soldiers.

Cutting back to 2022 levels would allow minimal funding to provide oversight and remediate mold and lead infested housing, dilapidated barracks, bring down the backlog of desperately needed childcare facilities, or invest in much needed laboratory infrastructure critical for advancement and research and development.

How can we even begin to solve our recruitment and retention issues if we do not support our soldiers and their families? How can we expect our soldiers to deploy if they are worried about how their children will be taken care of or that they are living in unsafe housing conditions? I am repeating things that we have been told by our nation’s servicemembers.   

I cannot stress enough the importance of the quality of life issues surrounding our servicemembers that we are responsible for on this committee. While I am proud of what we have been able to do these last four years, we have so much more to do, and I know all of us here agree with that. We cannot take our foot off the gas now, which is what Republican leadership is proposing to do.

I am thrilled that in the last hearing, there were members on both sides of the aisle that spoke up and said that was not something that they supported. I hope that the lack of support continues. But it is important in these hearings to sound the alarm bell and raise the spectre of the impact of the cuts like those that are proposed by some.

I look forward to your testimonies and hearing your perspectives on the pressing issues we will discuss today.

118th Congress