Pentagon: Trump's 'cost plus 50' plan hasn't been discussed with Europe

Pentagon: Trump's 'cost plus 50' plan hasn't been discussed with Europe

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE’s controversial idea to press nations to pay the full cost of stationing U.S. forces on their soil, plus 50 percent more, is not a topic the Defense Department has broached with European allies, a top Pentagon official said Wednesday.

Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, said that Trump’s so-called “cost plus 50” formula may have come up in conversations with allies in the Pacific but not with those under her purview.

“My understanding is that rhetoric came from conversations from the Pacific, it’s not a conversation we’ve had in my portfolio at all,” Wheelbarger told lawmakers during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

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Committee Chairman 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.) called the formula “a monumentally stupid approach.”

“Our troops are present in these other countries primarily for our benefit, at least for mutual benefit,” Smith said. “It’s incredibly strategically important for us to have that presence. ... If we start pushing our allies away, I think that’s a huge mistake."

Countries that host permanent U.S. military installations traditionally pay a portion of the costs to house and equip the troops. The payment varies country to country and in how it is given. While some allies, such as Japan and South Korea, make cash contributions, others including Germany — where the United States has more than 30,000 troops — pay by footing the bill for land, infrastructure and construction of the military facilities, as well as waiving taxes and customs duties.

But Trump, who during his presidential campaign pressed for allies to contribute more to global defense, has repeatedly said such payments aren’t enough.

The administration is now drafting fresh demands that Japan and Germany — and eventually other countries where U.S. troops are based — pay the full price of keeping U.S. forces in their nation, plus another 50 percent payment for the privilege of having them there, according to multiple reports.

The new formula could mean that Washington will be asking countries to pay at least five times more than they do now.

While cost plus 50 is not a formal proposal or policy, the idea, first reported by Bloomberg News, has gained steam in recent months.

The pressure appears to have worked on South Korea, which earlier this month agreed to increase its financial contributions to U.S. forces stationed in the area after months of discussions.

But top GOP lawmakers have blasted the idea as detrimental to U.S. interests and its relationships with allies.

House Armed Services ranking member Rep. 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) told reporters Tuesday that some allies who host U.S. troops “do some of the most to support our joint defense needs,” and that “we’ve got to be sure that some of the allies who are doing a lot know that we appreciate it.”

Noting that he didn’t know “how seriously to take such reports,” Thornberry said the administration has “made a good point that some of our allies need to step up and do more. ... But to have some sort of arbitrary thing like that I don’t think makes sense.”

Asked how the “cost plus 50” idea would fare on Capitol Hill, Thornberry replied, “Not very well.”

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Steve King says 'left-wing media' and GOP leadership owe him apology after rape, incest comments MORE (Wyo.), the House Republican Conference Chairwoman, said Sunday that the plan would be “absolutely devastating” to U.S. diplomacy.

“We benefit tremendously ... because of our bases and our cooperation with our allies,” Cheney said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “The notion that we are somehow now going to charge them cost plus 50 is really — it’s wrongheaded and it would be devastating to the security of our nation and to our allies.”

She added that she would not support such a plan and said lawmakers in her party “should not look at this as though somehow we need to charge them rent for the privilege of having our forces there,” as having forces based in other nations “does us a huge benefit as well.”