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 InhofeOvernight Defense: Details on Senate's 0B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast Senate panel rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps, advances defense bill that backfills wall money Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences 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 MattisShanahan orders new restrictions on sharing of military operations with Congress: report Pentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report 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 SmithOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran Overnight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info 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 HagelSwalwell says he will convene a bipartisan 'blended cabinet' if elected president Overnight Energy: John Kerry hits Trump over climate change at hearing | Defends Ocasio-Cortez from GOP attacks | Dems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan For planet and country: National security's climate moment 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 ThornberryOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran Overnight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info 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 McCainClimate change is a GOP issue, too It's Joe Biden's 2020 presidential nomination to lose Meghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' 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 GrahamTrump declassification move unnerves Democrats Climate change is a GOP issue, too New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes 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.”