Congressman Mike Kelly represents Pennsylvania’s 3rd District and is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He joined me to talk defense spending and sequestration in hour two today:
HH: So pleased to welcome back Congressman Mike Kelly. He represents the 3rd District in Pennsylvania. I like to say he represents Camp Notre Dame, which was the camp of my youth and the shoe store over in Sharon, whatever that’s called, the one my mom used to go to. Congressman Kelly, welcome back.
MK: Hugh, good to be with you. Good to be with you. And yeah, it is Sharon, Pennsylvania, and you’re right, a lot of friends in that area, but a big Notre Dame territory.
HH: Yeah, I lived seven miles away from your district growing up, so I know your area pretty well. Now Congressman, the budget resolution is coming down the pipes here. You’re on Ways And Means. And I want to know what we’re going to do about the Department of Defense. I’m really not a big fan of sequestration. I know we’ve got to raise some revenue to offset the, to restore Defense. What do you think is going to happen?
MK: Well, I’m not a big fan of sequestration, either, and I mean, that was something that it would never have come to that. We’ll be clear of thinking when we get through that. But I think that right now, it would be hard for any clear-thinking person looking at the way the world is going right now to say well, okay, you know what, this is what came about because you couldn’t get together. So we can’t do anything about it. I’m not exactly sure what we can do. I’ll be very up front with you on that. But if we can’t defend ourselves, that’s our primary purpose. So we look at the world, the way the world is going, and I think we would be damned foolish to sit back now and say well, this is what we decided years ago, and we couldn’t get through, do the budget resolution, so we went to sequestration. My personal feeling, anything we can do to increase our spending on Defense, has to be done right now. I grew up with John Greenert in Butler, Pennsylvania. He’s now the chief of the Navy. My cousin, John, retired captain John McTighe and I have talked. He and I have talked so much about the state of the world, and how dangerous it is right now, Hugh, we have to find more money to spend on Defense. I have talked to Chairman Price. He said he’s very limited. As you know, 70% of the budget, you can’t touch. The other 30%, you can mess around with a little bit, move some things around. But we’ve always been knocking Defense, knocking Defense, knocking Defense. We’ve knocked it too long. We can’t sit back any longer, I think, and be delusional in thinking we’re going to be all right. We’re going to have to make ourselves better than anybody else in the world. Why we would ever send any of our men and women in uniform into any battle, we’re not better equipped, better trained, and in a position to win all the time. I don’t want it to be a fair fight. I want it to be tilted so far in our favor that people are afraid to come out on the field against us. So that’s just the way I feel about it. Now getting the dollars there, I would tell you that there’s an overwhelming number of members of the Republican House that look at this and say we have got to spend more than the President’s asking for. It’s a no-brainer right now. We’ve got to go forward. We’ve got to make our Defense stronger.
HH: Well, given that, and you know, I know that Chairman Price will put a budget resolution in, and I don’t view that as the final deal. That’s the starting of a process that will have to come to some tax hikes, some COLA adjustments. You’ve got to find some revenue, because the President’s not, he’s got some leverage on the House and the Senate, right? He’s got the sequestration, which he doesn’t care what happens to the military. I mean, he cares about our men and women in uniform, but he doesn’t mind about that number. That’s his leverage. When is that conversation going to happen so that the deal that needs to get done gets done?
MK: Oh, I think it has to happen right now. When it comes to raising taxes, I think we all agree that raising tax revenues is the key. But everybody talks about doing tax reform. I get that. But there are dollars that we can move around. We can redeploy dollars the same as every single American does in their own home, their own business, their own churches, their own schools. Prioritize what it is you have to do, and then get to those numbers. I think that right now, what we’re looking at, yeah, do we need more tax revenues? Yeah, it would be nice if our economy was growing at the rate it could grow just with all the assets we have. But the reality of it is where we are right now is where we are right now. My point would be redeploying dollars that we already have, looking at, and it’s only one-third of the budget as you know, less than one-third of it, 30% of it, we can do some things with. We’re going to have to redeploy funds to put more money in Defense. It’s just going to be that simple. So now, it comes down to when do you have that conversation, and I’ve always heard since I’ve got here, this is my fifth year, we’re going to have to have an adult conversation. Well, these are adults that never do have a conversation. They just keep putting it off and say tell the kids to stay calm, and when we get around to it, we’ll get around to it. Now is the time. The world is in such a great uproar right now. We are never in a more dangerous position than we are, and I, listen, I know you agree when it comes to national defense. That is who we are.
HH: And so I know the resolution is going to keep the cap, but I am told pay no attention to the budget resolution. We will break that cap later in the summer. Is that your understanding, Congressman?
MK: Well, from what I’ve heard from different people, they give you different stories on that, Hugh. I would just say this. If we can’t look at things through the right prism of what it is that we are responsible for, and that’s our national defense and defending our borders, there’s something wrong with the cap, no cap, how you have to break a cap, how you have to get to what you need to spend to stay alive, I think you look at that from a very common sense look, and say look, I understand all the nuances of Washington. What I don’t understand is why you would put our national security at risk. I don’t have the levers. I don’t know exactly the way to do it, Hugh, but I would tell you this. I would be in favor of anything that allows us all the time to make sure that we put the best people on the ground with the best equipment, the best training, the best assets, and build alliances around the world that help us do things that make sense.
HH: Now you’ve got this reputation.
MK: We’re just, I think we’re getting too caught up, and again, what I said about the nuances of Washington, and I keep hearing well, you don’t understand this, Kelly, this is the way it’s always been done. And my answer to that is well you know what, just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s right, and I never will understand it. My main oath is always to defend the people of the United States, and that is in our very basic oath that we take. We’ve got to, Hugh, we’ve got to find a way to get through this. I would work with anybody to find out how to do it. But I think looking at the caps and saying no, no, we’re going to be stymied by these caps, there’s got to be a way to get around that. There’s got to be a better answer to it than that. We just don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable. That’s stupid.
HH: Last question, my buddy, Campbell, who retired, said that you were willing to break some china when necessary in the House GOP conference when they got together. Isn’t it time to break some china? And I mean, really, just sit down and fix this? This is crazy, because right now, they’re making spending choices for 2016, which means mothballing ships and forcing our mid-level officers and not paying the kind of stuff, and not training. We end up with terrible accidents like we had last week in Florida. Isn’t it time to get this done?
MK: Yeah, well Hugh, I mean, it’s just, again, we’re common sense guys. Why would anybody go back to saying well, you guys don’t understand this is the way we’ve always done it. And I say well, damn it, it’s wrong what you’re doing. Why would you keep doing the wrong, the same thing over and over again, and then wondering why it’s not turning out the right way? What’s the old saying? You keep shooting yourself in the foot, and you wonder why you’re limping? There’s a lot of common sense people right here who are fed up with Washington the way it’s been run for too many years, by too many people who have made it a damn career instead of an avocation. You have got to look at what you do every day when you get up, and if it’s not to protect the men and women who sent you there to represent them, then get the hell out of the House. Go back home and sit in your backyard and read comic books or something. This is too serious. We are placing ourselves in a very dangerous position. And if it’s all because this is the way it’s always been done, I don’t want to hear that. As far as breaking china, hell, there’s so much broken china down here now, why be worried about it? You can’t walk around without really soles on your feet, because you’d get cut, there’s so much broken china.
HH: Go keep doing it, Mike Kelly, from Pennsylvania. Thank you, Congressman.
End of interview.