Chairman hopeful for quick action from Trump on defense spending

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said on Wednesday that he is hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump will request a supplemental to the defense budget once he takes office.

“My hope is that the new administration will come to us with a supplemental request as soon as they get their feet on the ground,” Thornberry said at a forum hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

{mosads}Thornberry said Trump’s focus on rebuilding the military is “exactly right.”

“Numbers do matter,” he said. “Part of the reason we’re challenged right now is that we don’t have enough aircraft, [and] you have to have numbers to cover geography.”

Trump has said on the campaign trail that he would increase the size of the military, calling for a plan that defense experts say would increase the defense budget by 20 percent, to nearly $700 billion.

Thornberry said he hoped a defense budget supplemental would go toward buying the aircraft and equipment the military service requested but could not buy in 2017.

He said the U.S. military’s aging aircraft and ships are forcing maintenance crews to work overtime, seven days a week. One squadron that deployed to the Middle East had to take an extra plane just for extra parts, he said.

Not replacing aging systems is like “not patching your roof and letting it go — one of these days you’re going to have water in your house,” he said.

Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who moderated the discussion with Thornberry and whose name has been floated as a potential pick as Trump’s Defense secretary, said he “loved the president-elect’s defense speech” and his focus on regrowing the manufacturing base.

“I’m going to support that whether inside or outside,” he said.

Thornberry also discussed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes Pentagon policies and spending. A final version of the bill, combining the House and Senate’s versions, will be unveiled on Wednesday.

House Republicans this year initially pushed for a higher 2017 defense budget that got around budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act by shifting $18 billion from a war funding account not subject to the caps into the Pentagon’s main budget. That would have required a war funding supplemental in March.

Instead, House Republicans agreed to a 2017 defense budget plan that would add $8.3 billion more to the budget and leave it up to the next administration to request more money upon taking office.

With the extra $8.3 billion, lawmakers chose to preserve troops over extra aircraft. Thornberry reasoned that it takes decades to grow experience, and the military can’t afford to lose valuable personnel.

The Army would be increased by 1,000, the Marines by 3,000 and the Air Force by 4,000 next year.

The House will vote on the NDAA this week, while the Senate will vote on the measure next week.

Thornberry defended a decision in the 2017 NDAA that would split the job of the head of the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) office into two positions — one to oversee acquisition, and the other to see innovation.

“We have put too much under AT&L,” Thornberry said. “This is a first step in recognition that we have lost something on innovation. It’s probably not the final answer, [but] I think it’s the right thing for now.”

The chairman also looked ahead to the 2018 NDAA.

“We’re not done on organization reform, acquisition reform and some of the personnel reform issues,” he said. 

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