House Army Caucus is an advocate for soldiers and their families

Monday, April 01, 2013

I am privileged to have this opportunity to introduce myself as the new co-chair of the House Army Caucus, which includes more than 100 members from both political parties and is one of the most active and important caucuses in Congress.

The Caucus’ goal is to educate our colleagues on Army needs and advocate for them in the legislative and appropriations processes.

I’ve been on the Caucus since 2007, and this year was honored to be asked to serve as its Democratic co-chair along with Congressman John Carter, a Republican from Texas.

It’s a perfect fit for me because my district is home to two Army installations – Fort Meade (also home to the National Security Agency and the new federal Cyber Command) as well as Aberdeen Proving Ground, where we develop and test new military technology.

I also serve as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and am on leave from the House Appropriations’ Defense Subcommittee.

Last month, in one of our first official Caucus activities, we hosted a delegation of Congressional staff members at Aberdeen.

We toured labs where technicians are testing new helmet designs and saw demonstrations of new surveillance technology. The idea being that, if we share with Congress the amazing things the Army does for our country, we can better protect it in the legislative and appropriations processes.

That will be a top priority as Caucus co-chair – to shelter our troops as much as possible from devastating budget cuts, especially in this economy.

The Army needs a strong, bipartisan voice now more than ever so that we can support our troops and their families.

At the time of this writing, we are mere days away from the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

Sequestration is a meat-axe approach to budgeting.

The Army is already taking the biggest hit coming off a decade of war and supplemental funding and an across-the-board cut takes away all ability to spare critical items like military healthcare for returning wounded warriors, the military retirement system and military construction for improvements on old bases.

We’re already causing damage. Defense budgets are on a 5-year cycle.

In order to buy big-ticket items like tanks or fund major-muscle movements like getting the troops out of Afghanistan, the Army needs to know its bottom line.

We must cut waste, fraud and abuse and use a scalpel to trim less critical items. As ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, I worked with the Republican Chairman, Congressman Mike Rogers, last year to cut $1 billion from the budgets of our intelligence agencies like the DIA, NSA, CIA and FBI without affecting their mission.

We did it by going through their budgets line-by-line, eliminating waste and even some programs we like, but simply can’t afford any longer.

I am confused as to why this type of program review hasn’t occurred across the entire federal budget.

I have expressed my frustration with leadership on both sides of the aisle and have encouraged them to invite lawmakers with more moderate views to the negotiation table.

Even the threat of sequestration has affected military operations. The Navy recently postponed the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf because of budget considerations.

Would we prefer to have two carriers in the Gulf given the current tensions with Iran? Absolutely. I can’t imagine the toll sequestration could take on initiatives that support our warfighters, like combat injury research and research and development for protective gear.

One of the first things I did when I came to Congress was create a national program that enables Americans to donate their frequent flyer miles to military families traveling to visit a wounded warrior.

To date, the "Hero Miles" program – now administered by the nonprofit Fisher House – has saved military families more than $50 million by providing 32,000 free plane tickets.

We recently expanded the program to also enable patriotic Americans to donate their unused hotel reward points to further defray travel costs for military families.

I don’t have plans to leave Congress anytime soon, but I will keep fighting for those who fight for us until my last day.

In this difficult economy, we shouldn’t be adding to the financial burden that our military families are already facing. We need to show our troops – and their families – that we are grateful for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

(Editor’s note: Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger is serving his sixth term representing Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District.)