House Armed Services Readiness Chairman ‘Confident the Downward Slide Will Be Reversed’
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Due to a 20 percent reduction in defense funding forced by the Budget Control Act (BCA) and the threat of sequestration, military readiness has deteriorated and “our country is at risk,” House Armed Services readiness subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson said March 2.
From his visits with military forces and feedback from his sons who are serving, “I have great concerns about their readiness, equipment and training,” Wilson told an American Enterprise Institution audience.
But, “I see a real turn around,” Wilson, R-SC, said. Because of Republican control of both chambers of Congress and now the White House, “we’ll be able to pass legislation that has a chance to pass in the Senate … and would be signed.” Before, with President Barack Obama, “we always knew there was a veto threat,” for pro-defense bills, he said.
“The current (political) environment, I believe, will be good for national defense,” he said.
Wilson said that “with the leadership of Defense Secretary [James] Mattis,” the promises from President Donald J. Trump to rebuild the military, and the input from House and Senate Armed Services Chairmen Mac Thornberry and John McCain, “I’m confident the downward slide will be reversed.”
Substantially increasing defense spending, as Trump, Thornberry and McCain advocate, would require repeal or modification of the BCA to eliminate the threat of sequestration. Wilson said he was pleased that Trump called for an end to sequestration in his address to Congress this week.
Wilson noted that Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, has been circulating a letter calling for repeal of the BCA, at least as it affects defense funding, which has gained strong support among House Republicans.
“I do believe we can address sequestration,” he said.
There is, however, some opposition to repealing BCA among fiscally conservative Republicans and strong opposition by the Democrats to eliminating sequestration unless it also applies to social programs.
Although Trump has proposed a fiscal 2018 defense budget of $603 billion, which would be $54 billion above the BCA caps, Wilson said he supported Thornberry’s and McCain’s call for $640 billion.
He did not answer questions on how the Republicans would pay for that spending without increasing the national debt.
Wilson noted that the House will be voting next week on a fiscal 2017 defense appropriations of $584 billion, which is the BCA limit. That would replace the limited funding allowed under the Continuing Resolution, which otherwise would run until April 28.
The service chiefs have urged Congress to quickly enact a defense appropriations so they could spend the additional money on readiness and execute new or revised procurement programs that are frozen by the Continuing Resolution.