Congressional Republicans are making rebuilding the U.S. military a focal point of the coming session, and South Carolina’s Rep. Joe Wilson on Wednesday was put into the heart of that effort.
Wilson, a member of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee since he arrived in Congress in 2002, was named the chairman of the subcommittee on military readiness.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Wednesday that he’d made the appointment because American forces were facing “a deepening readiness problem” and Wilson understood what was needed.
“We have weapons and equipment that doesn’t work,” Thornberry said. “We have personnel who can’t get the training they need. Increasingly, we have personnel who are less trained than their counterparts in other nations.”
Thornberry said the reasons behind declining readiness were many. American forces have been at war since Wilson was elected in 2001, and for much of that stretch they’ve been fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Beyond that, military budgets have been cut, he said by as much as 21 percent from 2010 to 2014, though he wasn’t sure how much of that was due to scaling back efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But beyond that, there were the drastic reductions of forced budget cuts known as sequestration.
“Who’s at fault?” Thornberry asked. “There’s plenty of blame to go around between Congress and the president.”
He recalled a visit to Marines in South Carolina who were preparing to deploy, and were cannibalizing equipment to make that possible. He noted that the equipment fatigue is obvious — “We’re needing 24-hour-a-day maintenance, but we’re 4,000 mechanics short,” he said.
So, he said, the plan is to first increase the military budget and lean on Wilson’s subcommittee to come up with a plan to set things right.
“Absolutely we have to increase the budget,” he said. “The world isn’t 21 percent safer than it used to be. You can reach a point in cuts that you can never get ready.”
Wilson says he’s excited to take up his third subcommittee chairmanship, despite the challenges. Previously, he’d been the chairman of subcommittees on emerging threats and military personnel.
Wilson speaks passionately about supporting the military. He’s a veteran, and his father was a veteran of the famous Flying Tigers, an American unit that defended China against the Japanese. In addition, Wilson’s four sons have all served, and three are still.
“We had a chance to talk with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) and he said he’s working on getting the money,” Wilson said Wednesday during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “I’m excited to get going. I see, beginning January 20, a new era in preparedness and training.”
In fact, Wilson said a primary reason he’d been supportive of President-elect Donald Trump was the commitment to strengthening American national defense.
“We will be looking at the wisdom of spending,” Wilson said. “But we will fix what needs to be fixed.”
In addition to the appointment, Wilson introduced a bill Wednesday to “prohibit the secretary of energy from planning, developing or constructing a defense waste repository” until a final decision is made on “the construction authorization application for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.”
“American taxpayers have put over $3.7 billion into Yucca Mountain – they deserve to see it completed,” he said in a statement on the matter. He added that until a decision is made, “South Carolina would remain a de facto repository for nuclear waste. The federal government should finish what they started – or, at the very least – should make an official decision on Yucca before wasting billions of dollars on a duplicative facility.”