The government funding bill unveiled this week marked a “significant achievement” in uncoupling defense and nondefense dollars even though the defense increase was not as much as hoped for, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday.
Democrats have long demanded that increases in defense spending be matched with dollar-for-dollar increases in nondefense spending.
“I think it’s really important to have defense stand on its own merits,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters. “Despite the fact this is only about half of what the president asked for as far as the increase, I think it is a significant achievement that the bonds are broken with other political agendas. And that is a significant step forward in trying to look at the needs of the military, and what I believe is the first obligation of the federal government, on its own.”
Thornberry's praise echoes House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE (R-Wis.), who earlier Tuesday touted the deal for breaking "Obama rules."
Congress unveiled this week a bipartisan spending agreement that would provide a $15 billion boost in defense. The extra money would be put in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which is not subject to budget caps.
The spending bill does not match defense spending with an increase in nondefense spending, though Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBreyer retirement throws curveball into midterms Schumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Voting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Monday the disparity between defense and nondefense was not significant because social programs saw a healthy increase. Democrats also drew a distinction between OCO funding and base budget funding.
Thornberry said Tuesday both parties have been at fault in the past for using defense spending as leverage: Republicans to get cuts in nondefense spending and Democrats to get increases in nondefense spending.
“All of that is just holding defense spending and the men and women of our military hostage to some other political agenda,” he said.
Looking ahead to fiscal 2018, Thornberry said there are have been conversations about how to deal with the defense caps set by the Budget Control Act (BCA).
“There’s been a fair amount of discussion in the past week or two among members on the floor or walking back and forth about BCA caps and what the proper course is to deal with them,” he said. “You see from the omnibus you can increase OCO enough to do some good. It’s better to have the money than not have the money, but I think the point clearly is the Budget Control Act was designed to reduce the deficit and to control mandatory spending, and it has not succeeded in those things, so it’s time for a different approach.”
Asked about what was left out of the spending bill he hopes to include in fiscal 2018, Thornberry cited testimony from Pacific Command head Gen. Harry Harris on a munitions shortfall. Thornberry also brought up missile defense to protect from North Korean missiles.
“When you got some guy over there popping off missiles every other day, not to mention what’s happening in the area of missiles in other parts of the world,” he said, “we need to put our foot on the accelerator on this.”