27th Annual Showcase for Commerce Murtha Breakfast

27th Annual Showcase for Commerce  Murtha Breakfast

Remarks as delivered by U.S. Senator Bob Casey

Ed Sheehan, thanks so much, and thanks for that greeting this morning. I want to thank you in particular for the work that you’ve done for Showcase all these 27 years. I don’t go back that far, but I know Ed and Linda and so many others who are here today go back all those years so, let’s give a hand for all those who have made this possible all these 27 years.

I want to thank as well Congressman Rothfus for his message today and for his presence here, in all the years I’ve been here, and the county commissioners who are with us and other distinguished elected officials. I know in this audience it probably goes without saying, but probably important to make note of how many Veterans in the audience. Put your hand up if you’re a Veteran – what a remarkable testament. Thank you for your service and for your presence here today. And a special thank you to the people of Johnstown and Cambria County, who make this possible in one way or another. You make it possible for this community to thrive and also for this Showcase to go forward. We’re grateful for their contribution on a day like today.

I know Joyce Murtha is not at the breakfast here this morning, but we were with her last night. We want to say hello to her and thank her again for her continuing support.  I’ll mention Jack (Murtha) a little bit later in my remarks, but as Keith was saying, what a life of contribution, what a life of purpose.  I didn’t know Jack as well as my father knew him – they were born in the same year, 1932, just a couple months apart – but I was fortunate enough both to know him and to serve with him just a few years as a member of the United States Congress.

Just for the last five years, I’ve been the Congressional lead for Showcase and every year, JARI and the sponsors recruit defense contractors and suppliers that are innovating, competing, and driving the industry forward every day.  And walking through the exhibit floor last evening, I was struck by the ingenuity and the dedication of those exhibitors – and that dedication to the basic mission – the mission of ensuring that when we send our warfighters into combat, they have the cutting edge technology and the equipment to meet and defeat any adversary, anywhere in the world.

For decades, workers and companies in southwestern Pennsylvania have contributed a substantial price for the security of our country. We see that most especially in towns like Johnstown. Families in Johnstown and Cambria County have given so much for our national security, and I am mindful of that every time I am here. I was thinking this morning, I should have retrieved it, you may have seen this a number of years ago in the midst of the Iraq War, an indication that per capita, very few communities have given more to that conflict than this city and this county. Those who served of course we pay tribute to today, and those who return to help build this community, but also of course we pay tribute to those who gave as Lincoln said, “The last, full, measure of devotion to their country.” We are thinking of them today. And of course as the Congressman said, those who are still serving in harm’s way.

You know, we read a lot about our competitors and adversaries around the world. We read in the news that China is floating its first aircraft carrier, it is building artificial islands illegally I should note, in the South China Sea.  We see Chinese-government sponsored hackers stealing trade secrets and intellectual property from Pennsylvania companies trying to gain a competitive advantage.

We see Russia aligning with Iran and Syria to counter U.S. influence in the Middle East, also supporting violent insurgents to terrorize Ukraine and threaten its neighbors, and of course Russia turning to hackers and internet bots to undermine our own democracy.  That interference by the way, continues today, and we know that Russia is likely to continue meddling in our elections if we don’t stop them. We see North Korea and Iran pursuing advanced ballistic missile capabilities that could threaten our allies and our own Nation.  ISIS, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups destabilizing regions critical to U.S. national security and seeking to use safe havens to execute attacks against us or our allies.

In the face of all these threats and these adversaries, we could turn inward. We could. We could back away from our alliances and tell the world that we’re going to focus on our own problems, not theirs.  I understand – I think everyone in this room understands – that argument. And just as I see, as you do, the threats from ISIS, al Qaeda, China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, I also see the work still to be done here at home. The opioid epidemic – no one needs to be reminded of the gravity of that here in southwestern PA or anywhere in our state. Small towns and big cities. Suburban and rural. We know the challenge of crumbling bridges, at last count, Pennsylvania’s got around 4,500 structurally deficient bridges to repair. Roads marked with potholes, all of those infrastructure challenges. School children and businesses with no access to high speed internet. Small towns where jobs have been lost to automation, bad trade deals, or lack of investment, and you could make the list longer than that.

Some have said that these problems present a choice: do we put America first, or do we maintain our role in the world?  That’s a false choice. That’s a false choice! We can do both. We must do both. We have always done both, and we’ve done that for generations. Here at the Murtha Breakfast, a question occurs to me, which I will not answer because I’m not worthy to answer it. But I just present it as a question to think about: What would Jack do? What would Jack Murtha do, if someone said, that is our choice: invest at home or engage with the world? The exhibits that I saw last night and that we’ve seen year after year are a testament to our ability to build a stronger economy and create jobs of the future. As well as to promote democracy, rule of law, human rights, all of those values all around the world.

But we should focus first on what we do here at home. We have to invest here at home. Our military strength and our economic competitiveness has always been driven by the tenacity and the ingenuity of the American people. In Pennsylvania, we don’t wait for the future, we invent the future – that’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. And we invent the future by our work ethic, our history of innovation, our desire to leave our children better off than we are. The other countries I mentioned earlier are indeed investing in defense capabilities, their building up arsenals-their sharpening their technological tools, they’re doing a lot of things that we have to be mindful of. At the same time, here at Showcase, we have heard from military leaders about today’s challenges and tomorrow’s threats, and you are rising to meet that challenge – all of you who are participating in Showcase.

We have to talk, of course, about the budget. The President recently presented a budget which proposes a huge increase in defense spending.  I know that this could mean significant opportunity for growth for many of the companies here today. Over the next few months, we’ll be discussing and debating that proposal.  I want to see a budget that focuses on improving military readiness and investing in technology and innovation. A budget that ensures our military and our Veterans get the benefits and healthcare they’ve earned through their service.  And, I have to say, as a former Auditor General for eight years, I understand our duty to achieve efficiencies and our duty to crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse.

So as we invest in our defense capabilities, we cannot, we cannot gut non-defense programs that our communities need. Just a couple of examples, here in Johnstown, over $1.1 million in Community Development Block Grants annually have supported things like street improvements, youth services programs, and housing rehabilitation, and the rest. Cambria County has benefited from more than $13.7 million in these block grants since 2007. Penn Highlands Community College has benefited from about $120,000 in funding from the Perkins Career and Technical Education program, just by way of another example.

I am fighting for reauthorization of this important program, Perkins. Pennsylvania high schools received $25 million in Perkins funds last year and postsecondary institutions received about $10.8 million. We’ve had bipartisan support for this program – Perkins – in the past and I’m calling on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses to step up and help ensure that tomorrow’s students – who could go on to be candidates for jobs in your companies – have the training and preparation they need to excel.

We need these investments to continue to grow our economy and prepare the next generation of Americans for good jobs like the ones that your companies are offering. Education is the key to our long-term economic competitiveness – we know that.  Every child should have access to a quality education – that’s a shared goal, I think in both parties.  We know what early learning means – if kids learn more now, they’re going to definitely earn more later. It’s not just a rhyme, it’s actually true. That means setting goals for education, maybe a goal that every five year old reads in the country– every single five year old can read and all students graduate from high school ready for college or ready for a career, but every single one of them in those high schools.

That’s why boosting career and technical education opportunities is one of the goals I have as a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  This is particularly important for our servicemembers who are transitioning into civilian careers.  I know many of you in this audience, and this is an understatement, prioritize hiring Veterans. So I thank you for that commitment and I will continue to support you in that work.  But we must harness the skills and experience of our Veterans and offer them additional education and additional training. If they’re using GI benefits, we need to ensure they get their money’s worth, by holding accountable fraudulent programs or fraudulent institutions that take advantage of Veterans and their family members.  In the end, the return on the investment is substantial – companies like yours get talent and experience that you need to keep growing and to keep innovating, while Veterans continue to support the men and women in uniform who are still serving.

Now I also know that there is bipartisan commitment to investing in our young people, investing in our infrastructure, and of course investing in our economy. But that’s not enough. America relies upon the strength of our economy, but it also requires that we insist upon engagement with the world and investment in our alliances and partnerships.

Last year, as the Congressman mentioned a trip that he took, I went to Israel, in addition to several other countries. But on the Israel part of my trip I met with Israeli leaders and defense experts.  We talked a lot about the threat posed by rockets from Hezbollah and tunnels built by Hamas – two terrorist organizations.  We also talked about our decades of partnership to engineer and build systems that defeat and protect against these threats. For example, U.S. and Israeli companies have partnered on cooperative missile defense systems, plural, several systems and we’re now working on technology to detect and defeat terrorists’ tunnels where they can go underneath a house and create havoc and terror because of those tunnels. Perhaps some of you are suppliers or manufacturers of equipment, weapons, or technology that our foreign allies would like to buy, and to enhance interoperability and acquire cutting edge technology.

So our economy in our national security benefit, from these partnerships. We cannot turn away from the world and try to go it alone. We can and we should ask our allies to pull their weight and pay their fair share.  Whether it’s NATO or the counter-ISIS coalition, the U.S. can always press our partners to do more, but we can’t do that by threatening that we’ll abandon these alliances or creating any uncertainty about those alliances. The stakes are far too high.

In Washington, we must continue to invest in our national security, and advance cost-effective programs that prepare our workforce and trigger job growth. We must fight for smart national security policies that build up our alliances and make sure that our military is ready to face any adversary. And because American strength overseas is rooted in the strength of our communities here at home, we must also promote investments in education, health, and infrastructure that are the keys to competitiveness.

So today, as we think about Jack Murtha and his legacy at this breakfast, and in all the days that follow, I believe we must reject this false choice of building up our communities and maintaining our strength abroad.  As we increase our military capabilities, we must increase invest in communities like Johnstown, there’s no question about that, we’ve got to do that now and we’ve got to do that in the future. But we can do both and we must do both. We’re Americans, that’s what we do.

Giving our citizens a fair shot at a good life, while also promoting the values and the interests abroad that we think are critical to the world. And we know that when we do that’s a terribly significant challenge. I understand that. I know it’s a big challenge. But it is a challenge worthy of a great nation. The people of Johnstown, or Scranton, or anywhere in Pennsylvania, know how to meet those challenges, and we’ve never ever walked away from that kind of a challenge. We just don’t think about and plan for the future, we shape the future. We do that here in the land of the free, and the home of the brave. Thank you for making Showcase possible, see you in 2018.

Thank you.