Thornberry Eyes Quick Passage of Appropriations, Defense Supplemental Measures
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Congress should pass a full-year appropriations bill “as soon as possible” and then quickly work to pass a defense supplemental funding bill that President Donald J. Trump has promised to send them, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said Feb. 6.
Approving the money needed to fund the government for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year will clear the way for Congress to work on a fiscal 2018 budget, which should include a major increase in defense spending aimed at reversing the slide in military strength and combat readiness, Thornberry told reporters.
Thornberry said he did not know what size defense budget the president would propose, but noted that “our view is about a $640 billion base budget to meet the increased end strength, the increased number of ships, to turn the readiness around and deal with a lot of those problems.
“We’ve been in touch with the administration” and have kept it aware of the analysis the committee started last year at the request of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman said.
To approve defense funding that high would require Congress to repeal or at least modify the 2011 Budget Control Act, which put caps on how much the government can spend and imposed sequestration to enforce those limits.
“Clearly, the caps for defense have to go away. There is wide-spread agreement on that,” Thornberry said. But he rejected the view, held by many Democrats, that the spending caps also must be raised or removed for domestic spending as well.
He called the demand to raise non-defense spending a dollar for every dollar added for defense “absolutely wrong, morally and every other way.”
If they have to hold defense spending down until the country can afford to increase domestic funding “we will never have the defense we need,” Thornberry said.
Noting that defense spending is only 14.7 percent of the total federal budget, he said, “you do not balance the budget by cutting defense. You just increase the risk to the nation.”
Increasing defense spending without offsetting cuts elsewhere, however, could bring a fight with the large number of Republican “deficit hawks” in the House who strongly oppose anything that would increase the national debt.
But, Thornberry said, “unlike previous years, the White House and Congress will be looking at the big picture on the budget” including the entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which make up two-thirds of total federal spending.
“We cannot wait to fix our airplanes until we fix the budget,” he added.
But Thornberry’s primary concern was finishing funding for the current year, which is being done under a continuing resolution that runs until April 28 and limits most spending to the prior-year levels.
“I think it’s really important that we finish this year’s budget appropriations as soon as possible. There’s no reason in the world to wait until April.”
Asked what he wanted in the supplemental funding bill, Thornberry said he has suggested starting with “the things that were in the House-passed NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] that were not in the final bill. I think they should be at the top of the list.”
The compromise NDAA cut $18 billion the House wanted to add to the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which would have gone mainly to increased weapons. The proposed adds included 14 F/A-18 Super Hornets, another littoral combat ship and an extra LPD 17 amphibious warship, plus 11 more F-35 Lightning IIs, split among the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.