A picture of Senator Thomas R. Carper
Thomas C.
Democrat DE

About Sen. Thomas
  • Executive Session

    by Senator Thomas R. Carper

    Posted on 2013-02-26

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    CARPER. Mr. President, it is rare that I disagree with the Senator from Texas--maybe once or twice in the last half a dozen years. Seriously, we disagree from time to time, but we do it in a way that we are not disagreeable with one another.

    I support the President's nomination of Chuck Hagel to be our Secretary of Defense, and I wish to take a couple of minutes to explain why.

    For folks who might be watching this from afar, this body used to operate very differently than it does today. The President would nominate people to serve in a cabinet or to serve as judges and there would be hearings. There would be debate. Sometimes people would disagree. But, certainly, for Cabinet appointments and for sub-Cabinet level appointments, for the most part, the President got the team he, or someday she, asked for. That is the way we have done it as Governors across the country, and it is the way we still do it. The idea of 4 years of this administration to still be playing a game of executive branch Swiss cheese--we have so many relatively high level positions, confirmable positions that are still vacant--is not good, whether it happens to be a Democratic administration or a Republican administration.

    The President, regardless of what party they are from, needs, for the most part, to have the team they want to put in place. They have been elected to lead. Let's give them a chance to lead. If they screw up, we can hold them accountable.

    I had the pleasure of serving with Chuck Hagel for, I guess, my first 8 years as a Senator. I like him and respect him as a fellow Vietnam veteran. He is a war hero. He was wounded not once but twice. He has the Purple Hearts and some other decorations to show, to demonstrate his valor.

    He came back, put his life together, built a business, a good-sized business, ran that business, and he has led some large government entities, including those that look out for our veterans and others too.

    As to the question of does one have the kind of intimate knowledge of the Department of Defense we would like for a person to have, he has had good training. He has had good exposure. He has been there. He has done that. He has been able to, as an innovator, as an entrepreneur, start a business, grow a business, run that business, build that business.

    Here he served on the committees of jurisdiction that actually enabled him to drill down on parts of the Department of Defense and part of our defense policy and foreign policy that you never have a chance to when you are over there serving in Southeast Asia or some other area around the world as a member of our Armed Services.

    When I went with Chuck on a codel--I want to say it was maybe in 2005--that is when we actually get to know people around here. We could be here, be kind of airdropped in on Monday afternoons, vote, and then by the time Thursday night rolls around, folks here smell the jet fumes and they are ready to go back to Hawaii or Michigan or Oklahoma or someplace such as that. We go by train to Delaware. But people are ready to head for home, and we just do not have the kind of time together, quality time together, that we used to have when people would actually stay here for weekends, when we were not focused 24/7 on fundraising, and we actually had--believe it or not--dinner clubs and people carpooled to work. Can you imagine that: Democrats and Republicans carpooling to work here? We just do not have those opportunities these days. I do not know that we ever will again.

    So one of the great opportunities we have to know people is when we go on codels, these congressional delegation trips. I had the opportunity to go with Chuck Hagel on a codel he led over one-half dozen years ago. We went to the Middle East. We went to Israel. We spent time along Gaza. We went to Jordan. We met with leaders of Saudi Arabia. I had a chance to actually see him interact up close and personal with leaders of all those countries, see how he handled himself, to see his knowledge of the issues, his ability to debate, discuss those issues with the leaders of three of the most important nations, allies of ours in the world.

    I was proud of the job he did then. I was proud of the leadership he showed on those occasions. I was proud of his grasp of the issues.

    Do you know the other thing I was proud of? He was willing to be honest and frank with people with whom we need to be honest and frank. He reminds me of one of the old caveats of leadership, which is that leadership is having the courage to stay out of step when everybody else is marching to the wrong tune. Leadership is also the willingness to speak truth to power, to tell people--sometimes our leaders, whether they be the President or, frankly, sometimes leaders of other countries--what they need to hear, maybe not what they want to hear.

    Chuck Hagel is that kind of person. I believe he is principled. I think he is hard working, that he will surround himself with good people, ethical people, honest people, capable people, bright people.

    I think as a former Member here, he understands the importance of the interaction between us and the Department of Defense, which I hope he will have the opportunity to lead.

    When we passed something called the Chief Financial Officer Act, I think in 1990 in this Chamber, coauthored, I think, by Bill Roth, my predecessor, one of the requirements of that legislation was not only would every major department in our government be required to have a chief financial officer, but also, in addition, there was a full expectation that all these departments which were not auditable--could not be audited--had to become auditable. They had to be capable of being audited. Then there was the full expectation that once they were auditable, they would be able to pass an audit fully without qualification.

    Today, there are two departments in the Federal Government that are not auditable and have not passed an audit in an unqualified manner. One of them is the Department of Homeland Security. They are getting real close. They are knocking on the door. I think they will get it done by next year. I congratulate the Secretary and their team for doing that.

    The other is the Department of Defense. For years and years and years they would say: Well, manana. We will do that manana, next year or the year after that. They have not. Why is this important? What you cannot measure you cannot manage. What we cannot measure we cannot manage. The Department of Defense is unable to measure well and, as a result, they do not manage as well as they need to.

    We just got a high risk update from the GAO, the General Accountability Office, 2 weeks ago. High on their list of issues that need to be addressed is the Department of Defense's need to be able to pass an unqualified audit so their financials, their accounting systems and supply systems, their spare parts systems, personnel systems actually work.

    Leon Panetta has done much in the 2 years he has served as Secretary of Defense to make sure the Department of Defense takes this obligation seriously. I commend him and I thank him for that. He has been like a breath of fresh air.

    Second, Chuck Hagel has given me his personal commitment that he will not relent, he will not turn back, but [[Page S828]] he will continue on this path of undertaking and be in a position by the next 3 years to do what the Department of Homeland Security is about to complete, the benchmark they are about to reach, the milestone they are about to reach, and the milestone that virtually every other Department of the Federal Government has reached.

    We are looking down the barrel of a gun this Friday--sequestration. If we are serious about making sure we do not get shot by that gun, mortally wounded by that gun, along with our economy, we are going to have to make sure we are doing three things better.

    One of those is, we need some additional revenues. We need to have revenues closer to the level of where revenues were in the 4 years we had balanced budgets under Bill Clinton, where revenues as a percentage of GDP, my colleagues will recall, ranged anywhere from 19\1/2\ percent of GDP to 20\1/2\ percent of GDP--somewhere in that range. Last year, it was about 15\1/2\, maybe 16 percent of GDP.

    With the fiscal cliff deal adopted in this body and signed by the President back in early January, revenues as a percentage of GDP by the end of these 10 years will be up to about 18, 18\1/2\ percent. But some additional revenues are needed, very much in line with what we had when we actually had four balanced budgets in a row under the Clinton administration. Remember, those were the first balanced budgets we had since 1969. So, No. 1, we need some additional revenues--in smart ways.

    The second thing we need to do is entitlement program reform. Over half the money we spend is on entitlements. Is it possible? The President says we need entitlement reform that saves money, does not savage old people, poor people, and actually makes sure these programs are around for future generations. I could not agree more. That is No. 2.

    The third thing we need to do is find ways to save money in everything we do--everything we do--from agriculture to transportation and everything in between, including defense.

    I am told--and I am going to look over here at Senator Levin, the chairman of the committee, and the ranking member, Senator Inhofe, and just ask a rhetorical question. I recall hearing not long ago that we spend more as a nation on defense--I say this as a 23-year veteran naval flight officer, Active and Reserve Duty, a Vietnam veteran--but I am told we spend as much money on defense as maybe the next 5, 6, 7 nations combined.

    As important as it is for our next Secretary of Defense to have a good grasp of military issues--foreign issues, intelligence issues, the ability to manage big operations, to have strong managers under him or her--as important as that is, it is important for us to spend more wisely.

    A good place to start is the GAO high risk list for high-risk places where we are wasting money and that we get a good to-do list out of GAO. It is one I think we ought to take seriously. I know the chairman of our committee and the ranking member take it seriously. Believe me, I do too.

    One of things we are going to use from our commitment of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs--on which Senator Levin serves, and he chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations--we are going to make sure we hold the feet of the Department of Defense to the fire, and we need a Secretary of Defense who will do that as well--someone who is a fiscal hawk, someone who understands the importance of getting better results for less money in everything we do, including providing for the defense of our country.

    That is not the speech I brought with me to the floor, but it is the speech that is in my heart.

    I just say to my colleagues, if you are on the fence and you are not sure whether you ought to vote for cloture, someday we are going to have a Republican President again. Someday we will have a Republican majority here. There is an old saying: Every dog has its day. Today we have a Democratic President and we have a Democratic Senate for confirmations. Someday that will not be the case. I will say to our Republican friends, just be careful. Just be careful. I say this with respect: Be careful of the bed we make because someday our friends on the other side will get to lie in it. Do we want to continue to go on with this precedent of maybe even denying an up-or-down vote on the nomination of a Secretary? I do not think so. I do not think that is a good precedent. An even worse precedent is to have all these sub- Cabinet-level positions that are vacant and have been vacant, in some cases, for weeks, months, in some cases for longer. That is a terrible precedent to have, and we need to stop it. A good time to stop it is right now.

    I am pleased to stand and endorse the nomination of Chuck Hagel. I think he was a credit to his State, to this body when he served here, and I think he will be a credit to us if he is confirmed. I urge his confirmation starting with today's vote for cloture.

    Thank you very much.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Mississippi.

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