HASC Chairman Urges Compromise to Reach Budget Deal
Photo: Defense Dept.
With a budget deadline quickly approaching, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee urged politicians on both sides of the aisle to compromise on controversial issues in order to pave the way for an increase in defense spending.
Republicans and Democrats have been at loggerheads over a number of contentious matters including non-defense spending, funding a new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals immigration program known as DACA.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon and other federal agencies have been operating under a continuing resolution since October. Defense officials, members of industry and other observers have noted the negative effects of continuing resolutions on the U.S. military’s ability to start new programs, adjust spending and conduct training.
“My job is to reinforce and not let members forget the damage that is done to the military every single day under a CR,” HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters Jan. 16 at a breakfast in Washington, D.C.
The latest stopgap budget measure is set to expire Friday, Jan. 19, raising the specter of a potential government shutdown or another CR extension. Both military spending and non-defense spending are also constrained by caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which will remain in effect for 2018 unless lawmakers can reach an agreement to repeal them.
“Personally, I would do just about anything to fix this problem including vote … for things I might not support otherwise,” Thornberry said.
“I am concerned, disappointed — there are probably stronger words that would apply — with members on both sides of the aisle who have acknowledged the need to spend more on defense but if only if we do this, we increase spending over here, we increase spending over here, we tie it to DACA” or other issues, he added.
Lawmakers are in talks this week to try to reach an agreement before the latest CR expires. Thornberry said a broad budget deal that would lift the spending caps and resolve other issues such as DACA could be within reach, despite doubts among some observers.
“I don’t know what the situation will be over the course of the week … [but] I really think that a full agreement is very possible and it’s very possible in a short amount of time,” he said. “The question is: do people want an agreement? …. And that’s the question I don’t know the answer to.”
Thornberry suggested that some of his colleagues might take a cynical position when it comes to budget talks and not negotiate in good faith.
“I’m increasingly concerned for example on the DACA deal, that some people may not want to resolve the issue,” he said. “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.”
If lawmakers are unable to reach a deal and they kick the can down the road again by passing another continuing resolution — to keep the government funded at fiscal year 2017 levels until February or beyond — acquisition programs and other military projects would remain constrained.
The Defense Department could ask for certain high-priority programs to be exempt from the restrictions of a CR, a budgetary mechanism known as “anomalies.” In the past, officials have requested them for major programs such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine — the Navy’s top acquisition priority.
Thornberry said Pentagon leaders have not approached him recently with a list of programs that they would like to protect if there is another continuing resolution. He added that even if anomalies are granted, they would only have limited impact on mitigating the consequences of the budget impasse.
“One of the points I’ve tried to make to all my colleagues is there is no number of quote-unquote anomalies that can … fix the damage that a CR causes,” he said. “The idea that, Oh, if you could just give us a little of this and a little of that and then the CR wouldn’t be so bad,’ is blatantly not true.”
Although defense officials have repeatedly railed against Congress’ inability to pass annual appropriations bills on time in recent years, Thornberry said they are not doing enough to deal with the situation.
“I’m afraid that the Pentagon as an institution has become kind of used to CRs and they don’t really ask for things, they don’t think about … what added flexibility may be helpful,” he said.
“This is the eighth or ninth consecutive year that we have started the fiscal year under a CR, so they’ve gotten used to” that, he added. “One of the frustrations I’ve had is trying to get them to think a little broader at how to lessen the effects of the CR. You know they’ll ask for a couple of little things but unfortunately we’re all getting used to it. And so that damage, that corrosion of our military capability continues day by day.”