The stakes in the Georgia U.S. Senate races on Jan. 5, 2021, between Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and their respective challengers, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, are very high for a host of reasons. One that has not received enough attention is the readiness of our military. The U.S. faces rising threats from China, Russia and Iran, and continued robust funding of our military is clearly at stake in Georgia, which will decide the Senate majority. Nowhere is the divide between Democrats and Republicans more important.
For decades the Democratic Party has staked out a position of diminishing the importance of U.S. military readiness. President Jimmy Carter slashed defense spending in the first three years of his term. This created a hollow force, only to have the Soviets and Iranians take advantage of America’s weakened presence in the Middle East, which forced Mr. Carter to increase spending at the end of his term. President Bill Clinton cut the size of the military by a third, reversing a decade of progress under the Reagan and first Bush administrations.
More recently, Barack Obama and Joe Biden oversaw a 25% reduction in the military budget during their second term. The cuts were more than numbers—they dramatically undermined our military’s combat readiness and the morale of our troops.
In 2015, only three of the Army’s 58 brigade combat teams—the 5,000-strong deployable units in the Army—were combat-ready and capable of completing their missions. Less than half of the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ aviation fleets were flight-ready, and only half of the Navy’s amphibious ships were available to support contingency operations. The circumstances in late 2016 and early 2017 were so dire that the Army publicly expressed concerns about running out of bullets.
A main reason Mr. Perdue and I first ran for office in 2014 was to reverse these reckless cuts to our military. We were part of the class of 12 freshman who ushered in Republican control of the Senate and later worked closely with President Trump to give priority to the rebuilding of our military, its morale and readiness. We have made historic progress.
In the past four years, the Senate voted to increase the defense budget by $454 billion, a 16% increase over the last four years under Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden. This included the highest, and much-needed, pay raises for troops in more than 10 years, robust investments in advanced weapons, and a return to the high levels of readiness that the American people expect for their military. The Army now reports that half of its brigade combat teams are rated at the highest levels of tactical readiness—a nearly 900% increase from four years ago—and Marine Corps aviation has reached 80% readiness goals.
These investments were accompanied by increases in fiscal responsibility and oversight, including streamlining the Pentagon bureaucracy, cutting red tape around procurement, and completing the first ever Defense Department audit, for which Sen. Perdue played the leading oversight role. He, Sen. Loeffler and other Republicans will continue to give priority to rebuilding our military.
Would a Senate controlled by Democrats be so inclined? The answer is clearly no. This year as the Senate debated the National Defense Authorization Act, Sen. Bernie Sanders offered an amendment that would have slashed defense spending by 10%, exempting only military personnel and health programs, resulting in a total 14% reduction across all other defense programs. Before the vote, and in keeping with the “defund the police” fever that gripped Democrats this summer, Mr. Sanders wrote an op-ed titled “Defund the Pentagon: The Liberal Case.”
The Sanders amendment was a wrecking ball aimed at our nation’s military readiness, which is why I led the effort to oppose it on the Senate floor. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, on the other hand, made clear that the Sanders amendment had his support, and by extension his fellow Democrats, tweeting “Proud I fought alongside @SenSanders to ensure we vote in July on his amendment to cut $740B defense budget by 10%. . . . I proudly support this amendment.”
Republicans including Sens. Perdue and Loeffler worked to defeat the “Defund the Pentagon” priority of Sens. Schumer and Sanders.
There is little doubt that a government run entirely by Democrats—Mr. Schumer with Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi —would usher in a new wave of reckless cuts to our military. These cuts would severely damage readiness and morale, as well as hurt the economies of states like Alaska and Georgia, which count tens of thousands of military members and their families as residents.
The Republican military buildup in recent years has helped create thousands of jobs, with benefits for small businesses and overall economic growth. Georgia has nine major military installations, including the only East Coast ballistic-missile submarine bays, the future home of the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System, and the home of Army Cyber Command Headquarters.
If Republicans can maintain their Senate majority, we will check the Democratic Party’s demonstrated priority to gut our military again. But if Sens. Perdue and Loeffler are not re-elected, and Sen. Schumer becomes majority leader, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, we will have condemned ourselves to a history we have not learned from, and America will be much less safe for it.
Mr. Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. He is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Appeared in the December 8, 2020, print edition.