Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase

Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase
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Defense hawks are brushing aside concerns that the freshly passed tax cuts could squeeze defense spending and thwart the Trump administration’s efforts to bulk up the military. 

Congress’s official scorekeeper has estimated the tax cuts passed by Congress this week could add about $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Budget analysts have said the added debt could create new constraints on government spending, including for defense. 

But supporters of increased military spending, like other Republicans who supported the tax bill, insist that the deficit predictions are off base. 

“The whole idea is that, as we’ve learned every time we’ve gone through one of these, you do have more funding that comes in because the economy booms,” said Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, this week.

Republicans achieved their biggest legislative victory of the year on Wednesday when they passed a bill that permanently lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and temporarily lowers tax rates for individuals and families. 

Meanwhile, defense hawks are pushing a $700 billion defense budget for fiscal 2018 to start a buildup of the military. Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics MORE has asked for 3 percent to 5 percent budget growth each year to pay for a sustained increase of the armed forces that includes thousands of additional troops, dozens of additional ships and a hundred more combat aircraft. 

Democrats have slammed Republicans for cutting taxes at the very time they are looking for significant increases in defense spending.

“In an act of absolute pure insanity, we want to reduce revenue by another $1.5 trillion plus. If you add in the interest the debt accrues, I guess it’s over $2 trillion,” Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters at a recent breakfast roundtable.

“You got all this clamoring that we don’t have enough money for defense because we’re not funding readiness, we’re not ready for North Korea, we’re not ready for Russia, we’re not ready for this, that and the other thing, and then you want to reduce the amount of money [coming in]? It just doesn’t make any sense.” 

Bolstering Democrats was a letter from three former Defense secretaries arguing the tax bill could present a national security threat by exacerbating the budget uncertainty that’s plagued the Pentagon in recent years. 

“Our intent is not to criticize tax relief itself, but to raise the concern that tax relief without fiscal discipline will inevitably add to the national debt,” Obama administration Defense secretaries Leon Panetta, Ash Carter and Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip Esper given horse in Mongolia as US looks for new inroads against China MORE wrote in a letter to congressional leaders last month. “That increase in the debt will, in the absence of a comprehensive budget that addresses both entitlements and revenues, force even deeper reductions in our national security capabilities.”

Some conservative defense experts likewise raised concerns about the tax bill.

“I don’t see how defense hawks can in good conscience vote for a tax bill that will add at least $1 trillion to our debt. That will undermine our fiscal health and crowd out defense spending. This is a bill that will make China great again,” Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted Monday.

Congress’s most prominent defense hawks, though, supported the tax bill. 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryPentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe U.S. and U.K. divide increases on Iran Republican lawmakers issue dueling letters over Pentagon 'war cloud' contract MORE (R-Texas) on Thursday blamed tax reform for “sucking all of the oxygen out of the room” and preventing a budget deal that would raise defense spending by Friday’s deadline to fund the government. But he said he doesn’t think the deficit projections will affect the future debate on funding the military.

“I’m sure people will look for all sorts of arguments [against raising budget caps], but it’s true the deficit projections depend enormously on your growth factors that you put into the formula,” he told a small group of reporters.

“I think about this differently. I think that our first obligation is to defend the country. Our obligation is to the men and women who serve, and if we’re not going to adequately support them, then we shouldn’t have them out there doing what we ask them to do.” 

Thornberry’s Senate counterpart, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (R-Ariz.), was home recovering from the side effects of cancer treatment this week and did not vote on the final tax bill. But he’s previously said he doesn’t see how it relates to defense spending.

“We have a military where we’re losing men and women’s lives because we haven’t funded their training and equipment,” McCain told reporters earlier this year. “That has nothing to do with tax cuts. It has everything to do with the lives with the men and women in uniform — that we are responsible for their needless deaths.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week MORE (R-S.C.), an Armed Services Committee member and close ally of McCain’s, said after the tax bill’s passage that the real thing squeezing the defense budget is mandatory spending on domestic programs.

“Spending is about entitlements. What’s going to destroy the Defense Department is entitlements,” he said.

“The No. 1 obligation is to defend the country, and when it comes to the discretionary budget, the Defense Department goes first, but there won’t be money left through entitlements.”