By Kari Hawkins (The Redstone Rocket)October 31, 2012
Redstone Arsenal is on solid ground for the future.
Speaking to a crowd of about 1,000 business leaders at a Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce Washington Update luncheon on Oct. 24 at the Von Braun Center's North Hall, Sen. Jeff Sessions emphasized that the investment the nation has made in facilities at Redstone is an indicator that the installation is well-established within the nation's military community.
"There's no better place in America that has so committed people," Sessions said of the Huntsville and Madison communities, and the Tennessee Valley area.
Sessions saved his most passionate words for the Arsenal's Von Braun Complex, and its Missile Defense Agency and Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command employees.
"It's hard to say how fulfilling this has been," Sessions said, referring to the recent groundbreaking for Von Braun IV. "I've been working on this the whole time I've been in the Senate."
He said the first Von Braun facility, housing the Space and Missile Defense Command, is home to 600 employees. Von Braun II, which was MDA's first facility in the complex, is home to 900 employees. Von Braun III, which opened in 2011 to accommodate employee moves associated with the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure commission recommendations, is home to 2,640 MDA employees. Von Braun IV will provide space for 850 more MDA employees.
"That's a pretty good investment by the United States of America in one of the most unique and fabulous communities," Sessions said. "The Von Braun Complex was a long-term goal and it's wonderful to see it become a reality."
Of MDA, specifically, he said "You can be assured of its importance to national missile defense."
The senator also mentioned new Marshall Space Flight Center director Patrick Scheuermann, saying he was confident that Scheuermann will bring a new sense of purpose and direction to the center at Redstone.
"He knows Huntsville. He knows rockets. He knows Marshall. I hope that spirals into a degree of commitment than what we've seen before," he said. "I believe a great nation should be involved in some things that excite and unify -- and that can be found in space exploration. The U.S. does not need to be slipping by in its space programs."
Elaborating on his comments after the luncheon, Sessions said Redstone Arsenal "stands very solidly" and that new facilities on the Arsenal are "brick and mortar confirmation of the incredible importance of what we do here."
Sessions expressed pride in the Arsenal's personnel, and said the success of the Arsenal and its missions can be attributed to "good people doing good work at reasonable costs."
He described the Arsenal as having "fabulous infrastructure in a fabulous place. It is confirmation of your performance and our position here."
Six percent of Alabama's gross domestic product results from the work done at Redstone Arsenal, Sessions said.
"It is an exceedingly important entity for our region and our state," he said.
But, the senator also expressed a word of caution, saying that Redstone Arsenal isn't immune to reductions caused by federal budget woes.
"We are going to have to tighten our belts," he said. "With the numbers the way they are, nobody can be exempt from doing their duties more efficiently.
"I believe the technology of missiles and space is totally critical to America's defense and I only see that becoming more clear as time goes on. We have to dominate space and not have that mission eliminated during a time of conflict."
Sessions is a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and a ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. He is also a member of the Senate committees on the Judiciary, and on Environment and Public Works. He has served in the Senate since 1997.
But Sessions told his Washington Update audience that he has recently been frustrated by the Senate's members and its inaction. This year was the first time in 50 years the Senate didn't pass a defense authorization bill. The Senate also failed to review what Sessions called a "bi-partisan bill on the budget" that would have provided funds for a 1.7 percent Soldier pay raise, $1.5 billion for Army missile programs and increased funding for the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile program along with moving closer to a balanced budget within 10 years. Sessions hopes the bill will be brought up during the upcoming lame duck session.
"We are facing some very grave and serious problems," Sessions said. "But I believe with the right decisions, we will usher in growth and prosperity. This country is not dead economically."
He said the nation's leaders need to set an economic course that is "clear and permanent," and that "breeds confidence, encourages investment and creates jobs for millions."
Calling it the "least productive Senate in history," Sessions also expressed his dismay in the Senate not passing even one appropriations bill. In previous years, the Senate would pass all 13 appropriations bills. Then it got to where the Senate only passed six to eight appropriations bills every year with other items placed in continuing resolutions.
"This year not a single appropriations bill was passed," he said. "Everything was all piled together in 16 authorized continuing resolutions."
This stalemate along with economic growth that is slumping, a $15-16 trillion gross debt that is larger than the entire U.S. economy and the threat of sequestration -- automatic spending cuts that will take place in January because of Congress' inability to pass a balanced budget -- is causing uncertainly in both the private sector and government, Sessions said.
"In six years, the interest on the national debt will exceed the amount we spend on the Defense Department. … One hundred percent of revenue that came into this country last year was spent on mandatory spending and the interest on the debt. It's a formula for failure in any organization," he said.
No matter who sits in the White House, Sessions said "it is a responsibility of the president of the United States to identify threats of the future to our republic and lead the nation in a way it can be successful."
Even though the Budget Control Act of 2011 allowed an increase in spending by adding $1.4 trillion to set the 2012 budget at $3.7 trillion, actual spending increases this past fiscal year totaled $1.8 trillion, Sessions said, and the total federal debt now stands at about $16.4 trillion.
Besides government overspending, the gross domestic product continues to drop, Sessions said. In 2010, gross domestic product was $2.4 billion and represented a 2.4 percent growth. In 2011, the GDP dropped to a 1.8 percent growth, and this year, in the first six months, the GDP was down to 1.4 percent with it expected to fall to 1.3 percent during the last six months of 2012.
"I'm concerned about where we are financially," Sessions said. "If we can get our house in order financially, then we can move this country forward …
"We need to do the things that don't cost money while causing jobs to be created and our economy to move forward."
Those measures would include simplifying the tax code, eliminating requirements and codes that discourage economic growth, and defending trade interests and fair trade in the world, he said.
Another measure would be dismissing the threat of sequestration, which would cause an 11 percent cut in defense spending as part of overall budget cuts.
"I was pleased the president made it clear (during the debates) that we would fix sequestration, that it won't happen," Sessions said.
"It would have been much better if we had addressed it earlier. But I do believe we will get that fixed."
Sessions went on to say that entitlements -- payments made directly to individuals based on rights or legislation -- have to be cut. Currently, $1 trillion in the budget is spent on welfare programs, $480 billion on Medicare and $725 billion on Social Security. Defense spending is $540 billion. Sixty percent of the budget is spent on entitlements and that is expected to rise 6 to 7 percent each year, he said.
"It's unsustainable. Programs can't be sustained at this rate," Sessions said.
"We can help people in need. We can move people from dependence to independence. We can help those who can't help themselves. But we've got to start talking honestly about the situation. We're not managing the taxpayers' money well. I've seen no improvement, no commitment to bring these programs under control."
Although most leaders in Washington agree with such an assessment, conflict arises when discussions revolve around how to raise more tax revenue to pay the cost of the federal government. For Sessions, the answer is no new taxes, at least for now.
"I'm not for new taxes until we get on the right path," he said. "We should have had two years of full rigorous debate in the Senate of America on the touch choices we have to make. If we had a full discussion then the American people could have been more prepared to talk about this and figure out the path to get out of it. But it has not been publicly discussed. And, I believe, if we had been discussing this then the American people would be more responsive, and more willing to confront reality and fix it and move forward."