Armed Services chairman defends defense bill’s spending levels

Greg Nash

The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said on Thursday that sticking with the same spending amount in his annual defense policy bill as the president requested is the best chance for the measure to be signed into law.

“We looked seriously at asking for more money for defense,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters. “The judgment was that this gives us — being at the same total level as the president gives us — a chance of getting an appropriations bill signed into law and an authorization bill signed … so we want to take that opportunity.”

Thornberry confirmed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would authorize $610 billion in defense spending, in line with President Obama’s request and the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, which set spending levels for 2016 and 2017.

But Thornberry’s bill would use $23 billion from a war fund known as the Overseas Contingencies Operations (OCO) fund for the base budget, which is above the president’s request.

That means base requirements would get $574 billion.

“It is absolutely wrong to send service members out on missions for which they are not adequately prepared or supported,” he said. “What that extra $18 billion gets is better end strength, a full pay raise, money for the depots, more money for training, money for facilities. I was in one hangar where part of it is condemned, while they’re working on airplanes in the other part of it. And it’s money for procurement.”

It also means the remaining OCO — $36 billion — would not fund all of fiscal year 2017’s planned activities overseas. Thornberry estimated the funding would last until April 2017.

At that point, the next president would be able to decide whether to change overseas operations or request supplemental funding.

The new president would be reviewing these activities regardless, Thornberry said.

“Maybe he or she does not want to have a quadrupling of the European Reassurance Initiative,” he said. “Maybe he or she decides that’s hopeless against [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] or whatever it is, and chooses to reduce those OCO-funding activities, in which case you don’t need as much money. Maybe the new president says that President Obama got it just right. Maybe the new president says he’s not doing enough.”

The 2016 NDAA was vetoed the first time it went to the president’s desk because it authorized an extra $38 billion in OCO funding than the president wanted.

Thornberry differentiated between last year’s fight over OCO funding and what he’s done with the bill this year when asked whether he expects another veto threat.

“Last year was about adding OCO funding above the level so that the topline was above what the president requested, so the president and the Democrat’s answer was, ‘Well, if you’re going to increase defense, you got to increase domestic dollar for dollar,’” Thornberry said. “We’re not doing that this year. We’re staying exactly the same topline as the president requested.”

Still, Thornberry said he expects opposition from Democrats.

“I expect [opposition], and I’ve been talking, obviously, at these various options with [ranking Democrat Rep.] Adam Smith all along the way as we looked at increasing the topline or a variety of other things,” he said.

“You’re weighing lots of bad options here, or less than ideal options, but you start thinking what the priorities are of what matters with the men and women who are risking their lives to defend the country, and that’s just what comes out on top,” he added.

Tags Adam Smith

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