Top Armed Services Republican plots push for $750B defense budget

Greg Nash

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee will push to increase the defense budget to $750 billion when the panel debates the annual defense bill Wednesday.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) unveiled an amendment early Tuesday that would increase the top-line figure in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to $750 billion.

“The Armed Services Committee heard repeated testimony, from Acting Secretary [Patrick] Shanahan, former Secretary [James] Mattis, Gen. [Joseph] Dunford and others, that the military’s budget must grow between 3 and 5 percent through 2025 in order to restore readiness and maintain our competitive edge against Russia and China,” Thornberry said in a statement.

{mosads}“The Chairman’s mark does not meet that standard,” he added. “In pursuing an arbitrarily lower budget, the proposal reduces or eliminates vital programs, including emergency funding to restore installations damaged by extreme weather, military requirements identified by the services, funding to maintain our nuclear deterrence and ensure its safety, and missile defense.”

Right now, the NDAA would authorize a fiscal 2020 defense budget of $733 billion, which covers the Pentagon and the Department of Energy’s nuclear programs.

Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has defended the amount included in the bill, saying that’s what the Pentagon was planning for until shortly before the administration submitted its budget request.

“I am genuinely concerned, and I think we have enough history with the Pentagon to see it in the past, when they’ve been given more money than perhaps they expected, there is a lot of inefficiency and waste that follows,” Smith said Monday.

The Trump administration originally planned to request $733 billion for fiscal 2020, but defense hawks and former Defense Secretary James Mattis convinced President Trump late last year to request $750 billion instead.

Defense hawks argue $750 billion is the minimum needed to ensure the U.S. military is ready to counter Russia and China, citing defense officials’ testimony on the need for 3 to 5 percent year-over-year budget growth.

Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, have balked at the $733 billion price tag as being too high — meaning where Republicans stand could prove crucial as the bill works its way to the floor.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the amendment’s release, a senior Republican committee aide highlighted that it would add back $1.2 billion to the military personnel account, arguing the amount in the bill now could shortchange benefits and retirement funds.

It would also fund additional conventional weapons and equipment, such as $395 million more for new aircraft carrier construction, and strategic weapons, such as $120 million more for nuclear modernization.

The amendment would also add $2.3 billion for disaster recovery efforts at Offutt Air Force Base, Tyndall Air Force Base, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

Democrats have argued the disaster money no longer needed to be in the NDAA after Trump signed a disaster aid bill this month that included about $3 billion for storm-battered military bases.

But the fiscal 2020 military construction spending bill also includes about $2 billion for hurricane recovery. The spending bill specifies that the projects must be authorized, making “the silence on this” in the NDAA “important,” the Republican aide said.

The amendment also includes $460 million for facilities, as well as money for training and ammunition stockpiles, the aide added.

The amendment leaves out two funding issues that are Republican priorities — the submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead and a new high-value detainee facility at Guantánamo Bay. The NDAA right now funds neither.

“We did not include controversial issues that we thought would be unfair to offer as part of the amendment,” the aide said. “The goal here, to be explicit, is to not make it about the politics, but to make it about the substance of what Mr. Thornberry and our members believe the adequate resourcing needs to be.”

Still, the aide said they expect individual amendments on both the low-yield warhead and Guantanamo issues.

But the amendment does include one controversial funding proposal — $3.6 billion to backfill military construction funding Trump plans to take to build a border wall. Democrats left the money out of the NDAA because they consider it the administration’s roundabout way for Congress to approval wall funding.

Asked why the $3.6 billion was not considered too controversial to leave out of the amendment, the aide said “that fell into Mr. Thornberry making the point that we have partisan political fights in Washington, D.C., but we should never hold our military personnel hostage to those fights.”

The aide highlighted that another $3.6 billion the administration requested for additional wall construction was not included in the amendment.

“We did not put in the $3.6 billion request the administration had associated with physical infrastructure on the southern border, but we did for the military construction projects we thought were necessary for the military’s readiness and quality of life,” the aide said.

Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump James Mattis Mac Thornberry

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