Thornberry ‘Increasingly Concerned’ Politics Will Stymie Full-Year Funding Deal
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said Jan. 16 he would “do just about anything” to avoid another continuing resolution (CR) that would inflict further damage on the military, but worried some Democrats would rather have a political issue to rally around than reach a deal that would enable Congress to pass a full-year funding bill before the current CR expires in three days.
Thornberry told a Defense Writers Group breakfast it still was possible a compromise agreement could be achieved that would balance the demand by defense hawks to raise defense spending significantly against the insistence by Democrats that any deal must allow similar increases for domestic programs and preserve the protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children.
But Congress’ Republican leaders have said another CR appeared inevitable because of the conflicting demands.
The chairman clearly was not siding with some of the strongest defense hawks who have threatened to block another CR even if it means shutting down the federal government for lack of funding.
He said his job was to make sure members do not forget “the damage being done” to the military because the CR prevents any change in spending levels or procurement accounts from the previous year.
Thornberry said he was “increasingly concerned” that “some people might not want a DACA solution” because they would rather have a political issue they could use in the upcoming mid-term congressional elections.
Asked about the proposal for new lower-yield nuclear warheads reported to be included in the Nuclear Posture Review that is expected to be release later this month, Thornberry said “we should absolutely consider” whether the current warheads, developed during the Cold War, are adequate to meet current threats. He said the nuclear deterrent capabilities “are the foundation” of the national security for the United States and allies, and they need to examine whether “this nuclear deterrent meets the needs of the nation.”
He said he also looked forward to reading the classified version of the National Defense Strategy that should be released Jan. 19, arguing that the strategy should be the basis for setting defense spending, rather than having available funding determining what the strategy can be.
Navy leaders have said that chasing too many missions with too few ships and Sailors was one of the causes of the at-sea collisions last year of the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain that killed 17 Sailors.
Asked his view of the results of the Navy’s investigations of those collisions and two other incidents involving Seventh Fleet ships, Thornberry said, “No. 1, we need a bigger Navy” to avoid Sailors working 100 hours a week. And the Navy needs more ships so the crews have the time to train. The shortage of ships has become worse because “we have two out of commission” because of the collisions.
Informed about the declaration by Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander, Surface Forces, that the Navy needed more ships or fewer missions and asked if Congress should act to reduce the demand on the fleet, Thornberry said, “we are trying to make it clear you can’t do everything with what you have. As far as what missions we shouldn’t do, that’s the commander-in-chief’s decision,” referring to the president.
Asked about the growing dispute over guidance from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson for Navy leaders to talk less about the Navy’s deficiencies, Thornberry said he understood the concern about telling potential adversaries too much, but “my view is we need to talk more” about what is happening to the armed services because of inadequate funding. “You can’t hide the fact that 17 Sailors died.”