Ryan: Budget fights have pushed military ‘past the breaking point’
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday cautioned about the state of the U.S. military, warning that long-term budget cuts and “Washington melodrama” have “pushed our military past the breaking point.”
“Instead of upgrading our hardware, we have let our equipment age. Instead of equipping our troops for tomorrow’s fight, we have let them become woefully under-equipped,” Ryan told attendees at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.
The Pentagon started 2018 on a continuing resolution (CR), the ninth time the Defense Department has begun its year on a stop-gap spending measure. A CR keeps the building open, but prevents new programs from starting and delays maintenance and training.
This has left the military too small, over-worked and with aircraft that can’t fly, Ryan said.
“The cost of these readiness deficiencies are really dire. And this is literally costing us lives,” he warned.
“In total, we lost 80 lives due to training accidents in 2017 alone — that is four times as many were killed in combat. We need to do better.”
President Trump requested a $603 billion base budget for the Pentagon for fiscal year 2018, $54 billion over defense budget caps set under the 2011 Budget Control Act. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed in December, is nearly $700 billion, more than $80 billion over the caps.
Across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration will go into place if lawmakers can’t reach a deal to raise the caps.
Ryan said Congress is “very close” to getting a two-year deal on the caps, but also cautioned that the military is “being used as a bargaining chip for completely unrelated items.”
Ahead of a potential government shutdown, GOP leaders are currently facing a choice between fully funding the military or standing firm on immigration.
At issue is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects nearly 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Many Democratic lawmakers will not agree to a long-term budget deal without a compromise to keep DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, from deportation.
If no deal on DACA is made, the Pentagon will be forced to sustain itself off short-term funding bills.
“The defense budget is being held hostage for DACA,” Ryan said.
“We think this needs to be addressed, we want to fix this, good faith negotiations are under way right now, but we should not be holding hostage the military for this.”
Ryan’s words echo those of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who earlier in the week blamed Democratic lawmakers for failing to pass a defense budget in favor of “political games.”
“They may rather have the issue out there because they think it’s to their political advantage … they still say expressly they’re not going to vote for military funding until DACA is resolved, but they may not want to resolve DACA because they’re getting political benefit out of it,” Thornberry told reporters Tuesday.
Trump has also voiced his displeasure with the budget holdup, and said Sunday on Twitter that DACA is “probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military.”
It’s expected lawmakers will vote Thursday on another short-term spending measure that will last until sometime in February, avoiding a government shutdown that would otherwise occur at midnight on Friday.