Thornberry: Congress Failing to Fund Armed Services, Asking Too Much
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — The expanding string of fatal military accidents, including the two recent at-sea collisions involving Navy destroyers, indicates that Congress has failed to adequately fund the armed services and “we are asking too much of our folks and our equipment,” House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry said Sept. 6.
“So far in 2017, we’ve had four times as many service members die in non-combat operations than in combat. That is not a good trend. And it reflects, I think, the stresses and strains we have put on military because of the high operational demands … and a series of disfunctions by the executive and congressional branches,” Thornberry told an audience at the 2017 Defense News Conference.
Although he agreed with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ view that “we have the best military in the world,” Thornberry said, “there is a question about whether it has been funded commensurate with what we expect of it … commensurate with the responsibilities we have put on it … commensurate with the moral obligation we have to provide the men and women who serve with the very best, the very best training, the very best equipment, the very best support that our nation can provide.”
“I suggest to you we have not and we need to do better,” the chairman said.
Referring to the recent fatal Navy accidents, Thornberry noted that the Government Accountability Office warned in 2015 “that the operational demands on the Pacific surface fleet were short-changing training and degrading readiness.
“I can’t say those accidents were inevitable, but I will say we have had warning signals that we are asking too much of our folks and our equipment.”
But instead of acting to correct those problems, Thornberry said, Congress is going to do “the same thing we always do ... that got us into this,” by passing a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government, instead of passing the House-approved defense appropriations bill that would have added nearly $50 billion to defense spending.
Thornberry criticized the CR as “inherently inefficient,” because “it blocks spending on the training you need.”
That criticism was echoed in a later appearance by House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger, who said “I hate CRs.” But Granger said the House leaders have promised a short CR, extending only into early December. “We can live with that,” she said.
Thornberry said the rash of accidents, which include several fatal crashes by military aircraft, including two Marine MV-22 Ospreys, “have gotten to the American people. They don’t want this to continue.”
He suggested that even with a CR, which normally limits spending to what was spent in the previous fiscal year, “there are ways to make it less bad. I believe we have a chance to provide some additional money” for defense, including more for missile defense, for readiness and for personnel.
To avoid triggering sequestration of additional funding because of the Budget Control Act (BCA) caps, Thornberry suggested they would use the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which does not count under the spending limits.
But he condemned the BCA caps, saying they have failed to stop the rapid increase in government spending because they do not affect entitlements, which are 65 percent of the federal budget.
Although none of the appropriations bills being worked in the House or Senate address the BCA caps, Thornberry said “I think the Budget Control Act will be repealed or amended as we get into this discussion.”
Citing the growing list of security threats facing the nation, including North Korea, Thornberry said: “Diplomacy is needed. But diplomacy works best when backed up by strength. … Military strength is essential. We have to be strong.”
“I don’t worry about what others may do to us. But I do worry about what we do to ourselves” to weaken the military, he said. “We have to do better.”