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Rep. Mike Gallagher on the Lack of Shipbuilding in the President’s New Budget

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HH: I’m joined by Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin. He replaces the estimable Mike Pompeo as my Congressman to go to, and Pompeo replaced Cotton, who replaced Campbell who replaced Dreier. It’s a long, storied history of short-termers here. Representative Gallaher, I hope you last longer than your predecessors did. But Pompeo’s off doing great work, as is Cotton. Good morning to you.

MG: Good morning, sir. That’s a lot of Mike Gallagher’s you’re dealing with today. So it’s pretty confusing.

HH: It is. Very confusing. Let me talk to you about United States Naval Institute story yesterday. Department of the Navy, $180 billion dollars budget request emphasizes readiness. It reduces spending on ships and aircraft. President Trump ran on a promise of a 350 ship fleet. What does, this budget, I think, goes backwards, Representative Gallagher. You’re on the Armed Services Committee. Am I right about that?

MG: You’re absolutely right. I’ll confess I was confused and a bit disappointed when the budget came out yesterday. I think the President was elected for many reasons, but foremost among them, in my view, was the pledge to keep the country safe. And the reality is you can’t do that unless we rebuild the military. He even called it the foremost challenge that we face, this reversing Defense cuts under Obama. And not only is this 2018 request for $603 billion $37 billion below what Chairman Thornberry and Chairman McCain have called for, and the Gates baseline, but it’s below the pre-sequestration Obama levels in 2013. It’s not actually a modest increase over Obama. That’s relative to the BCA level. What Obama called for in FY 2013, it’s actually below that. So that means there are no additional ships constructed compared to Obama’s plan for this year. As you point out, it requests cuts to the Navy’s shipbuilding and conversion by more than $1 billion compared to FY 2017 Omnibus. So this means any progress towards a 350 ship Navy is delayed, or we actually go back for at least a year, perhaps more. And I think it’s fair to say, as Chairman Thornberry pointed out yesterday or the day before, that it’s basically the Obama approach. And that, in my mind, given the threats we face, I mean, you just look at the world in 2013 when Obama made these projections. Can anyone argue in good conscience that the world has grown less dangerous, that the world has grown more calm? Indeed, the opposite has happened. And so it’s not acceptable. We have to keep our promise to the American people. This idea that we have a placeholder budget, and then we’re going to wait for a strategic review to take place in the Department, I’m highly skeptical of that, because does anyone think that political capital or courage is going to be higher a year from now or six months from now when the review, or even three months from now when the review is over? Now is the time to lay in place the foundation for a 350 ship Navy, which as I always point out on the show, is the minimum the Navy says it needs in order to satisfy ongoing requirements, let alone deal with the crises that we cannot foresee at the current moment.

HH: Representative Gallagher, let me underscore something. The excuse given for this underfunding of the Pentagon, and especially the shipbuilding budget was this strategic review. In fact, the oceans will not shrink. And the President’s promise will not change. And the timeline to build ships will not decrease. All of those things will get worse. And so it’s a betrayal of a promise. Do you think the President is even aware that they went backwards on shipbuilding?

MG: I don’t know. I’d have to guess that he’s not, because I know he has expressed repeated support for a 355 ship Navy. And I think, you think about, on the political side, a lot of these guys like the hard-working men and women that go to work at Marinette Marine in my district, I mean, these are blue collar, common sense, hard-working people, skilled trades, welders. I mean, these are the people that came out and put the President in office. And so I think he understands that. And so I’ve got to believe when he comes back from a foreign trip that I have to say is going quite successfully, and I give him and his team enormous credit, and there’ll be a conversation, at least I hope there will be. And I would encourage you, Hugh, I think Director Mulvaney needs to come on your show and answer some of these questions. I mean, reviewing what he said to you a few weeks ago, this just doesn’t add up. I mean, he told you that we’d be starting on the road to a 355 ship Navy as part of the ’18 budget, and that we’d see sort of the pathway to that.

HH: Yeah.

MG: And this budget doesn’t get there.

HH: That’s exactly what he said. He said in the supplemental, or the omnibus, don’t worry about it, we’ll have it done by summertime and you’ll see it in the ’18. You’ll see a path to 350 or 355. There is no path. There is no increase. There’s a walking backwards. Do they not expect us to notice? So now the question become, the House appropriates. The House passes the first appropriation bill. It’s up to you folks, because Director Mulvaney has, you know, everyone knew he was a Defense deficit hawk and an anti-Defense guy when he went in, and I was afraid of this. But I thought the President’s promises would cabin him. Do you folks just throw it out and start over and do backchannels with the Pentagon, because they’re gagged, right? They can’t come out and criticize the budget. But they want the readiness dollars, but they also want the shipbuilding, and you need it for strategic, you just can’t close shipyards or not get started. Shipbuilding takes a long time.

MG: Well, and before we appropriate, we authorize. And that’s what the House Armed Services Committee is going to be doing. We’re going to be having a meeting to discuss the budget today and get Chairman Thornberry’s perspective. But it is my hope that we mark towards the $640 billion number which sets the context for all of this, not just accept the Mulvaney number of $603. I think any honest review of the strategic situation we face points toward that being necessary. And so that’s the first step. Then, we’re also going to be asking the Navy some hard questions. We have a Sea Power sub-committee hearing today to talk about all the details of the budget on the Armed Services Committee. So that’s our task. I mean, as a Catholic, I always blame myself first, so I think we need to do a better job of making the case not playing within the sort of the, you know, self-licking ice cream cone that is D.C, but to the American people. And we really, now is the time, we have a unique window of time to lay in place the foundation for continued American leadership and global dominance for the next hundred years. And if we don’t seize that, then I shudder to think what the world’s going to look like in two years, let alone ten years from now.

HH: Now who is chairman of Sea Power, Mike Gallagher?

MG: Rob Wittman, great guy, he’s been on your show before.

HH: Yeah, I thought so. Yeah.

MG: I would encourage you to have him on again. And he thinks very deeply and smartly about all these things.

HH: And so you’ll have, who will be coming to testify to you? Will it be the acquisition people? Or the CNO? Who comes up to talk to you?

MG: We have, today, we have the assistant secretary of the Navy, Mrs. Stiller. We have Lt. General Walsh, who’s the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for combat development integration, Vice Admiral Lescher, who’s deputy chief of Naval operations for integrations and capability resources. So these are really the subject matter experts, and we’re going to be diving deep into all aspects of the budget today.

HH: Well, what I would love to have you ask, if I can, is can we see a plan that the American people can understand how to go from 282 to 350 in eight years? Which shipyards build which ships to get to what mix in 2024? It’s not that hard to do. You lay it out, you have to get experts together, and you say we’re going to march to 350, and we’re starting here. This hull goes here, this ship comes here. This dollar goes there. It isn’t that hard to do, and it’s not anywhere a full year after he made the promise.

MG: Or at least among the many plans that have been produced on the outside, in some cases in response to specific requests built into previous national defense authorization act can the Navy choose expeditiously what path we want to go down, and then can we muster up the courage in Congress to give them the resources they need to make that a reality? And I would encourage everyone to go back and read John Lehman’s biography, Command of the Seas, where he talks about the necessity of leadership and just pushing the bureaucracy to get to what was then 600 ships. They didn’t quite get there. They almost got there. We need the same level of energy and consistent leadership right now, and I hope that my colleagues in Congress and our colleagues in the White House will, and our colleagues in the Pentagon, and Mattis needs his team in place, right? I mean, we need a Secretary of the Navy.

HH: We need a Secretary of the Navy. I have no idea that the, that why John DeStefano and the folks at Presidential Personnel cannot find someone immediately confirmable and ready to go in there, because the buzz I hear is that the guy is going to be withdrawn, the current nominee. I don’t ask you to comment on that, because that’s personnel. But we need a secretary of the Navy to sell this.

MG: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know how we get there. And I mean, beyond that, just think of the hundreds of positions in the Pentagon, in the State Department, that are not filled, yet. And it’s not, I mean, the honeymoon period is quickly over, right? I mean, we’re outside the 100 day window, and it’s not like the challenges we face abroad are getting any easier to deal with. Now I give Mattis, I give McMaster enormous credit for what they’ve done. And I think this foreign trip really underscores what has been a series of solid foreign policy decisions, notwithstanding the media chaos here domestically. But still, this is just, you know, this is the first quarter here, and we really need to get our team ready to go for what’s coming up ahead, because North Korea’s not getting any easier to deal with. Any resolution of that crisis still requires us to confront the longer term crisis that China poses. The Russians are running roughshod over all of our interests in Eastern Europe and across the Middle East. Iran is growing more aggressive. It’s time to get in gear here, and the President needs his team in place.

HH: Last question, Mike Gallagher, because I want complete clarity here. Is there any doubt in your mind that this budget breaches the President’s commitment regarding the Navy?

MG: It does not put us on a path towards a 355 ship Navy. I just don’t see it. If someone can show me the logic that I’m missing, it does not get us there. So it’s a question of do we want to do what the President, and I would encourage everyone to keep that promise, do we want a 355 ship Navy? If the answer is we no longer do, then okay, then why? But this does not get us there.

HH: Representative Mike Gallagher, always great to talk to you. Thank you, I hope your words will travel far and wide. We’ll make sure that they’re pushed out, and I appreciate you taking the time with us today. Have a great sub-committee hearing on Sea Power with the experts, because we need a plan, a plan that I can read out to people, a plan that you can benchmark, a plan you can follow. Thank you, Representative.

End of interview.


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