Funding our military is vital

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

Over the last five years, our nation’s military has seen funding cuts while being asked to do more and more around the globe. This has resulted in a severe readiness crisis.

Less than one-third of Army forces are at acceptable readiness levels for ground combat. And our pilots are getting less training than many of our adversaries.

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It is clear that budget cuts have really thinned out our military and hurt our ability to train and prepare for conflict. This is putting our military men and women at even greater risk.

Given these serious readiness issues, I am pleased to report that last week, the House of Representatives passed the defense funding bill for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017. By passing this bill in a strong 371-48 vote, the House further reaffirmed our strong, bipartisan commitment to supporting the U.S. military.

The bill includes $577.9 billion in funding for our military, which is an increase of $5.2 billion over last year’s funding levels. The bill fully funds a pay raise for our military and provides for 1,305,900 active-duty troops and 813,200 guard and reserve troops. Just as important, the bill funds ongoing military operations against ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

The bill also includes some good news for Alabama’s shipbuilding industry. The bill funds the construction of three more Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), which are the Navy ships built by Austal USA in Mobile. Austal directly employs over 4,000 people at their shipyard in Mobile, and countless other jobs are tied to the shipyard.

Working with my House and Senate colleagues, I am proud we were able to secure funding for the construction of three more Littoral Combat Ships. These ships are a key component of the Navy’s fleet, and the additional funding is vital to the future of the Austal shipyard in Mobile.

I am proud to have fought for this funding to be included in the bill, but the fight for a larger Navy and more Littoral Combat Ships never stops. Last week, I also testified before the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, where I asked for three more Littoral Combat Ships to be funded in next year’s defense bill. The Navy has made clear they have a high demand for the full complement of 52 Littoral Combat Ships.

The defense funding bill also falls in line with President Trump’s proposed increases to defense spending and makes much needed progress toward helping our military regain its footing. From the fight against ISIS to Russian aggression to China’s actions in the Pacific to North Korea’s continued weapons testing, it is more important than ever that our military be able to operate at full strength.

Given the global threat environment, I sincerely hope Senate Democrats will not play politics with the funding for our military. In the past, we have seen them attempt to hold military funding hostage until Republicans agreed to across-the-board funding increases for other, non-defense programs. This is reckless and irresponsible. We must ensure our military men and women have the funding needed to do their job and keep the American people safe.

I call on the Senate to quickly pass this defense funding bill and send it to President Trump’s desk for his signature. Reversing the readiness crisis and ensuring our military men and women have the funding and resources to do their job is a fundamental responsibility of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.