Fellow Montanans,

We are at a pivotal moment in history. Here at home and all across Europe, economies are struggling under mounting debt. The world is watching to see what America will do. It’s up to us to show the world that America can rise to this challenge and lead by example.

That’s what we’re trying to do on the Debt Committee. We are meeting day in and day out, burning the midnight oil to find solutions to get our debt under control.

As I’m working, I am fueled by the words of Montanans, who’ve told me over and over again: Max, get it done.

There is no doubt that getting it done will include serious spending cuts. And a balanced solution should also include revenue measures to make sure everyone is chipping in their fair share.

As we examine spending on the Committee, we think about it in two categories.

The first is mandatory spending. As the name suggests, mandatory spending accounts for programs that are required by law, like Medicare.

The second category, which I want to talk more about today, is called discretionary spending. Discretionary spending is the money we choose to spend on additional priorities from year to year.

Discretionary spending includes important programs for Montana like highway construction.

But, more than half of discretionary spending is for defense. And a big chunk of that half goes towards the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. As we take stock of the challenges we face here at home a decade later, we can’t ignore the role war spending has played in our budget crisis.

I salute our men and women in uniform and their families — especially the brave Montanans who have volunteered for service at greater rates than anywhere else in the country. Because of their sacrifices, Osama bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is on the run.

Our American military is the best in the world. But it can’t do everything. And we’ve stretched it too thin. It’s time for Afghan forces to take responsibility for their own country. It’s time to bring our troops home and focus on building a stronger future here in America.
Several of you have shared this same concern with me in your letters and during our tele-town hall.

Today, even our military leaders tell us that the biggest threat to our national security is here at home. Straight from the mouth of the Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen:

“Our national debt is our biggest national security threat.”

When our military leaders speak, we should listen.
We spend more on military spending now than at any time since World War II, including the peak of the Cold War, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Congress has approved more than $1.2 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan — all deficit spending. And that’s not just military operations. It also includes reconstruction and foreign aid.

We have borrowed money from China to build up Iraq and Afghanistan, while our own infrastructure and economy are suffering here at home.

To put it into perspective:

$1.2 trillion could double the number of public elementary schools in the United States. It could build the U.S. interstate highway system we have today- five times over. And $1.2 trillion is enough to meet the obligations of the Debt Reduction Committee.

Our troops have done an amazing job over the last decade. Thanks to their efforts, our world is now safer than it was 10 years ago. And we will never forget the price our troops have paid while fighting for our country — especially the thousands who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

We must remain vigilant in fighting terrorism. We’ve also got to heed the words of Admiral Mullen, and be just as vigilant to get our debt under control.

When it comes to nation building, it’s time to focus on America. It’s time to bring our troops home, and make this century the American century.

All the best,

Max Baucus