Defense hawks warn spending fix could hobble military

Defense hawks warn spending fix could hobble military
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Defense hawks are bristling as Congress appears poised to pass another stopgap spending measure to keep the government open beyond Friday.

If a budget deal continues to elude Congress, across-the-board spending cuts could come back in force, a prospect defense hawks say would be unacceptable for the military.

“We must start doing our job again, pass budgets and go through the normal appropriations process, and provide our military with adequate, predictable funding,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain takes aim at Trump: We need a strong leader, 'not a negative Nancy' McCain would have said ‘enough’ to acrimony in midterms, says Cindy McCain Trump nominates Jim Gilmore for ambassador post MORE (R-Ariz.) said at a hearing this week, a sentiment he’s expressed repeatedly.

Government funding is set to run out Friday when the continuing resolution (CR) that Congress passed in September expires.

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Several defense hawks, including McCain and House Armed Services Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: What the midterms mean for defense panels | Pompeo cancels North Korea meeting | Trump eyes Kim summit in early 2019 | Pentagon drops name for border mission Lawmakers press Trump to keep Mattis The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Trump knocks NY Times tax story as 'hit piece' | FBI faces pressure over Kavanaugh | Collins calls Trump remarks on Ford 'plan wrong' MORE (R-Texas), voted against that CR.

Defense hawks and Pentagon officials have long warned about the dangers stopgap spending measures present to national security, arguing they promote budget uncertainty and prevent the military from starting new programs at a time when threats might require an immediate response.

But House leaders have been eyeing a vote next week on a two-week CR to buy time for a budget deal. After that, Congress would pass another CR into January to have time to negotiate a spending package.

But if Congress continues to kick the can down the road past late January, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration kick in. That’s because current spending levels are above spending caps, meaning even a CR would trigger the cuts.

With the possibility of a CR and sequestration looming, defense hawks and the Pentagon have been running a full-court press.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White has been starting her semiweekly press briefings by counting the days the department has been operating under a CR, talking about the negative effects of that and the possibility of sequestration.

“We need Congress to pass a robust and predictable budget,” she said at her most recent briefing in November. “If sequestration happens, it'll mean a $52 billion cut to the [fiscal 2018] budget. Again, it affects readiness, lethality.”

The issue of funding was also raised during a briefing this week by the service's senior enlisted advisers.

“What I worry about in 2018 is to make sure that we have predictable and consistent funding in order to make sure that our soldiers are resourced appropriately, one, for the threat, and to prepare for any emerging threats,” Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey said.

Meanwhile, House Armed Services Republicans’ press shop has been sending out near-daily emails titled “Losing Time” that highlight specific effects of CRs. For example, Tuesday’s email cited 37 troops killed in noncombat plane crashes this year, and Thursday’s quotes the commandant and the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps discussing how stopgap measures hinder aircraft maintenance.

Committee members are pushing for the funding level authorized in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is nearly $700 billion. About $65 billion of that is not subject to budget caps, but the rest is about $80 billion above budget caps.

“Nearly every day we are reminded of the consequences of underfunding our men and women in uniform,” House Armed Services Committee spokesman Claude Chafin said in a statement. “Chairman Thornberry remains committed to the NDAA funding level- which overwhelming bi-partisan majorities in both chambers voted to support- as the minimum amount needed to begin rebuilding readiness."

"The Chairman takes [Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis’ and the services chief’s warnings about the dangers of long term CRs seriously,” he added.

The behind-the-scenes jockeying appeared to peak in public this week in an exchange between Thornberry and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow this year’s freshmen can save the Congress — and themselves Democrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters Amazon fleeced New York, Virginia with HQ2 picks MORE (R-Wis.) during a ceremony officially transmitting the NDAA to the White House.

“It will do a lot when the president signs this into law, but of course we’re all committed to working for a matching appropriation so that we can really get the rebuilding under way,“ Thornberry said.

“I’ve heard that,” Ryan cut in to say, to laughs from committee members.

On Friday, committee members also implored Marine Corps and Navy officers to help spread the word about the dangers of a CR.

“I don't think we can afford another CR, and so I think we have to make a stand over the next month,” Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherGOP lawmaker calls for committees to elect their own chairmen Overnight Defense: Details on defense spending bill | NATO chief dismisses talk of renaming HQ for McCain | North Korea warns US over cyber allegations NATO head shoots down idea of naming new headquarters after McCain MORE (R-Wis.) said at a subcommittee hearing. “Congress is rocking a 12 percent approval rating right now. I think you guys have a 90 percent approval rating. So we're going to need your partnership over the next month. By the way, that approval rating is lower than cockroaches and colonoscopies, to give you a sense of how bad the problem is right now.”

A committee aide said members are worried about a continuing resolution into January as there’s little incentive not to pass another CR after that, since by then it will be an election year.

Asked about the possibility of passing an appropriations bill for the Pentagon and a CR for the rest of the government and whether that would still trigger sequestration, the aide didn’t “want to get into hypotheticals” but said whether the spending cuts kick in “depends on how you write” the bill.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithPentagon official: Trump's Space Force could cost up to billion Trump faces new hurdles on foreign policy Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump's Armistice Day trip marked by controversy | US ends aerial refueling to Saudi coalition in Yemen | Analysts identify undeclared North Korean missile bases MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member of the committee, cast doubt this week on Congress reaching an agreement at all. Differences between Republicans and Democrats on defense and nondefense spending remain with no politically palpable solution in sight, he said.

“This discussion has not progressed an inch in nine months,” he told reporters at a breakfast roundtable. “There is no solution, OK? Every single option that’s on the table is politically impossible. And nobody wants to vote for it.”

He predicted a 24-hour shutdown next week.

“I would imagine what’s going to happen is that we’re going to run into that brick wall that I just described and the government will shut down for about 24 hours until we go, ‘Well, shit, that’s not popular either,’ ” Smith said.

“And then I don’t know, because there’s a growing list of people who don’t even support a CR because they’re quite correct in saying that a CR is a horrific way to run the government," he continued.

"And, by the way, of all the things that we do, it is the worst for national security.”