U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), served 20 years in the military in both the Army and Marines. He deployed to Iraq twice: once during the Gulf War and once during the Iraq War. Now he’s chairman of the Congressional Balanced Budget Amendment Caucus, and he’s taking on the Pentagon’s pork—as well as writing legislation to protect whistleblowers and victims of sexual assault within the armed forces.
MDO: You led a successful effort in HASC to add protections for whistleblowers and sexual assault victims in the military as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mark up. Why did you take the lead of this effort?
MC: Our men and women in uniform must be able to depend on one another, and trust their command will protect them from sexual predators. These crimes inflict lasting damage on individuals and compromise the effectiveness of our military.
The NDAA, which recently passed the House of Representatives, forcefully addresses the issue of sexual assault in the military by making several improvements to the Uniform Code of Military Justice: It maintains authority within the chain of command while increasing accountability and mandating punitive action for sex criminals in the forces; it ends arbitrary sentencing by requiring expulsion for all persons found guilty of sexual assault; and it extends the time period for the prosecution of sexual assault cases.
Not only must military leaders go after sexual predators, they must protect victims of this crime who are courageous enough to speak up. That is why I worked across the aisle with Congresswoman Jackie Speier to add the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act to the defense bill. This legislation protects service members who report sexual misconduct up the chain of command, ensures they have a fair chance of demonstrating that reprisal has occurred, and provides for a credible review process whereby the victim can request a hearing before on the matter and be provided with representation by a military lawyer.
According to a Defense Department report last year, over 60 percent of those in the military who reported sexual assault experienced some form of retaliation from their fellow service member. This is unacceptable. The fear of reprisal prevents victims and witnesses of this crime from speaking out. I believe this provision will go a long way to addressing this problem and ensuring these criminal acts are exposed and acted upon.
If we do not hold those accused of sexual assault accountable, and fail to protect those who keep our country safe, we fail our service members and make it more difficult to get future generations of Americans to sign up for military service.
MDO: National Taxpayers Union and R Street Institute recently released a report entitled “Defending America, Defending Taxpayers.” They found 100 specific recommendations totaling nearly $1.9 trillion in possible cuts over 10 years. Do you think Congress will begin to act fiscally responsible and will start cutting or reforming wasteful programs at DOD?
MC: How the government spends taxpayer funds is very important to me. We are in the middle of a fiscal crisis. Our $16.7 trillion national debt is unsustainable and economically ruinous. During economically difficult times, families and businesses make tough decisions; the government should be no different. My priority in Congress is to cut wasteful spending and to remain a responsible steward of American taxpayer dollars.
I remain committed to identifying and cutting wasteful spending wherever it is found in our budget—including within the Pentagon. There are ways to support wise cuts to extraneous Department of Defense programs to ensure the sustainability of our most vital national security assets.
MDO: Some in the GOP are concerned that if the Pentagon’s budget is cut, or cut any further, there will be disastrous effects on the economy. Veronique de Rugy (Mercatus Center) and Robert Barro (Harvard University) disproved the Keynesian notion that money spent on defense, even on unnecessary programs, benefits the economy in their report “Defense Spending and the Economy“. How can you educate your colleagues that money spent on defense for unneeded weapon systems actually hurts the economy and makes Americans less secure by misallocating resources?
MC: Not every dollar spent on the defense budget is necessary for the defense of our nation. I believe in a strong national defense and have concluded that spending wisely on defense is the best way to achieve that end given the current economic situation. It is troubling that some would rather preserve wasteful projects than take a common-sense approach to the defense budget.
Most Americans would agree that an obvious place to start is to stop spending money on a project the military does not want. The Abrams tank provides one such example. The Pentagon says it can save billions of dollars by freezing work on upgrading the Abrams tank from the M1A1 to the M1A2 version for the next three years and using that money for more pressing needs. In spite of this, there are some in Congress who insist that this money be spent.
I believe that the only way to resolve the problem is through a grand bargain whereby Democrats yield on entitlement reform to slow the growth of spending and so protect the future of these programs, and Republicans put revenue on the table through closing credits and deductions for corporations and individuals. Until this happens we are hurting our seniors and threatening our nation’s financial solvency. The key is educating people on the problems we face and how the interests of those on the right and left of the political spectrum can both be addressed while we solve the nation’s debt problem.
Michael D. Ostrolenk is a consultant who provides strategic and integrated analysis on issues related to national security, privacy and health.