Thornberry: Trump’s 2018 Defense Budget Plan Still Falls Short
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry gave a somewhat more pessimistic view of the fiscal 2018 defense budget that President Donald J. Trump has proposed, noting that it is $54 billion above the Budget Control Act (BCA) spending caps, but only $19 billion above what former President Barack Obama had proposed, and would not begin to fix the military’s readiness and force level problems.
Although the president, in his Feb. 28 address to Congress, touted his upcoming defense budget as providing a 10 percent boost and the largest increase in history, Thornberry said it was only 3.2 percent above the level the Obama administration projected for next year.
And in a Capitol Hill session with defense reporters March 1, Thornberry presented a chart showing a lengthy list of readiness, force posture and capabilities improvements that Trump’s $603 billion defense budget would not allow, compared with the $640 billion package that he and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain have said was needed.
Under orders from House Speaker Paul Ryan, Thornberry said his committee analyzed “what would it take to begin to repair our readiness problems and to increase the force size — Army end strength, Navy ships — in the way the president has talked about. We believe that would take roughly $640 billion.”
His list of problems that could not be addressed at the $603 billion level included air dominance and naval presence and dominance shortfalls, Navy readiness recovery, and inadequate ground forces and the nuclear arsenal and deterrent forces.
Despite his detailed depiction of the inadequacy of the president’s budget, Thornberry, R-Texas, did not present anything near the criticism offered by Senate Armed Services member Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who called it “dead on arrival.”
Thornberry said the House leaders were planning next week to bring up a fiscal 2017 defense appropriations bill to replace the restrictive continuing resolution. He said he expected it would provide the $619 billion proposed in the compromise National Defense Authorization Congress passed last year.
But that level would exceed the BCA caps and there are no signs that Congress is ready to take on the tough fight to eliminate the caps for defense, which Trump has urged it to do.
Thornberry said a letter supporting repealing or modifying the BCA to allow more defense spending was circulating in the House and had wide support in the Republican caucus. But Democrats insist that any change to the BCA also include domestic spending, and some GOP “deficit hawks” like the caps because they limit all government spending.
Without a change in the BCA, Thornberry suggested that Congress would fund any amount over the defense caps through the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which is not limited by the BCA.
The chairman did not know when or if the White House would send a defense supplemental request, which Thornberry and McCain have requested to further attack the readiness issue.
Asked if Congress would adhere to the request by the service chiefs to prioritize readiness rather than force increases or modernization in upcoming defense funding, Thornberry said, “you can’t define readiness too narrowly.” He noted that it cost more money to maintain old fighter than new ones.
“If you’ve got a 1980 (Navy) F-18, the best maintainers you’ve got are going to spend day and night keeping that older aircraft flying. The real readiness fix is to replace it with an F-35,” he said. “Modernization is a big part of readiness as well.”