House Armed Services chief: War funds could cover Pentagon budget

House Armed Services chief: War funds could cover Pentagon budget

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryTrump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash Overnight Defense: Woodward book causes new firestorm | Book says Trump lashed out at generals, told Woodward about secret weapons system | US withdrawing thousands of troops from Iraq Top Armed Services Republican 'dismayed' at Trump comments on military leaders MORE (R-Texas) said Monday that the Pentagon's war funding, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, could help cover other defense spending in the 2016 budget.

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The leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees are trying to find ways to increase defense  spending for next year, which is subjected to a cap of $523 billion under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). 

"OCO is a potential source," Thornberry told reporters at a roundtable Monday morning, which is not subjected to caps under the BCA. 

He and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argue that $577 billion is needed for 2016, given the national security challenges the world faces, including from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Russia and Iran.

However, defense hawks face a challenge from fiscal hawks within their own party. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has indicated his committee would draft a budget resolution that includes that the defense budget cap. 

Thornberry said he and other members of the Armed Services Committee have so far had discussions with members of the Budget Committee on increasing defense spending.   

"There's been a lot of discussions between me and Chairman Price and a lot of our committee members," Thornberry said. "Those conversations are continuing to go along...We're continuing to talk."   

Thornberry said a lot of people don't realize that since 2010, defense spending has been cut 18 percent — 24 percent if inflation is counted — while shouldering 50 percent of federal spending cuts under the BCA.

"Defense is now 16 percent of the budget, and yet it has had to absorb 50 percent of the cuts under the Budget Control Act," Thornberry said. "And the world is not 18 or 24 percent safer now than it was when the Budget Control Act passed."

Thornberry said he did not believe defense spending in 2016 should be any lower than the president's request of $566 billion. 

He said if the Budget Committee did not raise defense spending, there are "a number of options that are being looked at" — such as using leftover OCO funds. But, he added, "We're just going to have to take it step by step and see."  

Thornberry stopped short of saying he would not vote for a budget resolution that included the cap. 

"If there's one committee that ought to be careful about drawing red lines, it ought to be this one, given what we've seen happen in the world," he said.  

Thornberry said the House Armed Services subcommittees would mark up their portions of the defense budget the week of April 20, and the full committee would mark up their budget the week of April 29.

A full vote is tentatively scheduled to take place the week of May 13, he said.