At an annual intelligence hearing on international threats, the head of the US spy community fear mongered about a highly politicized domestic issue: the national debt.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates told senators on the Intelligence Committee Tuesday that increased annual deficit spending is a “dire threat” to US security.
The warning came at the tail end of Coates’ remarks, after he ran the gamut of perceived global dangers from around the world–from transnational crime to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to Russian influence operations.
“The failure to address our long-term fiscal situation has increased the national debt to over $20 trillion and growing,” Coates testified.
“I would urge all of us to recognize the need to address this challenge and take action as soon as possible before a fiscal crisis occurs that truly undermines our ability to ensure our national security,” he added.
Coates’ prepared opening statement posted on the committee’s website did not include his comments on the debt. He noted to the panel that reining in spending was an issue he worked on while serving in Congress, as a Senator from Indiana, prior to his stint as DNI.
While issues of domestic spending and deficits are under constant partisan debate in the halls of Congress from day to day, they’re usually not addressed during the annual global threats hearing.
Coates’ opening remarks during the same proceedings last year made no mention of the national debt as a threat. Nor did previous DNI James Clapper cite the concern during his many appearances before the intelligence committee’s threats hearing.
Under questioning later in the hearing from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Coates admitted that his remarks about the national debt may have been out of bounds.
“I’m getting a little bit out of my lane in terms of what I’m supposed to do,” Coates said, when asked why he didn’t include the debt in the official threats report. He added that spending is “something Congress needs to deal with and I didn’t’ want to come back and preach at you.”
Manchin said he “appreciated” the director’s warnings about the debt.
The timing of the Director’s remarks could have something to do with the recent budget deal struck over the weekend to avoid a government shutdown. The agreement paved the way for a deal to wipe away sequestration caps, and increase both military and domestic spending by $300 billion over two years.
Nearly a third of House Republicans voted against the deal over concerns about the national debt.