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HASC Chair Thornberry Doesn’t Anticipate Spending Dip in Next Defense Budget

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) traveled to Europe in mid-April with several members of Congress to visit troops stationed overseas and to meet with our allies in the region. Among other stops, he met with Maj. Gen. Niel Nelson, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, right.

CAPITOL HILL — A time of steady, predictable military funding could be at hand, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday.

The House of Representatives is expected to pass the $717 billion FY 2019 defense appropriations act next week. Anticipating the vote, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), said the pending appropriations bill goes a long way to rebuilding a military that has for too long suffered from operating under spending caps or temporary spending bills.

“Now I admit it’s a little bit weird to be so proud that we actually do our job on time, but given where we are, we’ll take it,” Thornberry said.

For the Navy, the bill sets aside for $24.1 billion for new ship construction. The bill also provides $12.1 billion for maintenance and repairs to current ships, and $2 billion for recruiting and training sailors, according to a fact sheet released by Thornberry’s office.

When looking ahead at the FY 2020 budget and appropriations process, Thornberry was upbeat about what was possible. He expects at best a slight increase from the 2019 spending level but bipartisan for such a plan.

“I think the more likely outcome is a modest, roughly the percentage of inflation increase,” Thornberry said. “Something has to be done with the Budget Control Act. I don’t know what the mechanism will look like, will it be a two-year deal, can we finally just vote to abolish the damn thing, or you know what’s going to happen, I don’t know the answer.”

However, not everyone tracking defense spending agrees even flat budget growth is possible. Smaller defense budgets are likely to start in 2020, Rep. Adam Smith, (D-Wash.), HASC ranking member, said earlier this month at the Defense News Conference.

“We are not in a fiscal position to have the size of the defense budget that a lot of people envision when they start spelling out all these nightmare scenarios about everything that we have to be prepared for,” Smith said at the conference.

Even if there’s support on the Hill for maintaining defense spending at its current level, Thornberry said Congress still has to contend with the Budget Control Act of 2011. Automatic budget caps will take effect unless a budget deal is worked out.

A budget agreement, though, would have to likely match any increased defense funding with increased social services funding to pass, Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said last week during a media briefing. Harrison and CSIS colleague Seamus Daniels were discussing their Analysis of the FY 2019 Defense Budget.

Complicating this process, Harrison added, is the Pentagon projects increasing its FY 2020 budget request by $84 billion while also moving what has been funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan back into Pentagon’s base budget.

For years Congress has paid for the wars through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, Thornberry said. For recurring activities, he said the Pentagon’s base budget should include this funding.

Moving OCO funding back to the base budget, though, will add about $53 billion to the Pentagon’s budget, and would count against any mandatory cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act, Harrison said during his briefing.

“I think it’s going to be a long, hard drawn-out fight,” Harrison said during the briefing.

In contrast, Thornberry, who cited Harrison’s study and briefing, doesn’t think the budget process will be so contentious. He doesn’t know how Congress will deal with the Budget Control Act but expects an agreement, even if the House flips to Democratic control.

“I just don’t see very much support for back-tracking on readiness and other critical issues, so I do not see a return to the Budget Control Act cuts,” Thornberry said.

  • NavySubNuke

    And there we have the choice. The money is going to be spent either way, lets not pretend either party actually cares about the debt, the only difference is in how it is spent. Do Americans want their money spent on building things and rewarding skilled labor at our shipyards and factories via defense spending? Or do Americans want their money spent on handouts via programs like SNAP and payments to organizations like Planned Parenthood?
    As much as I hate congress forcing unnecessary and unwanted ships down the Navy’s throat at least that money will go to the workers who get up everyday and go to work manufacturing them.

    • Duane

      All Navy ships are necessary and wanted.

      • NavySubNuke

        “The Administration strongly objects to the provision of an additional $475 million above the FY 2019 Budget request for the procurement of a second LCS. The additional ship is not needed. One LCS in FY 2019, when combined with the three funded in FY 2018, would keep both shipyards supplied with enough work to remain viable for the Frigate competition. It is imperative that, based on lessons learned from the LCS program, a more capable and survivable ship is developed to meet the Navy’s needs, consistent with NDS priorities.”

        • Duane

          POTUS isn’t the Navy, the last time I checked.

          POTUS is an idiot … and I don’t even need to check that fact. The American people agree, according to all opinion polling, and to be reinforced with the results of the November elections in a few weeks.

          • NavySubNuke

            POTUS is the Command-in-Chief of the Navy actually so yes, he is the Navy.
            No worries though – I realize you pride yourself on your ignorance.

          • Jon Tessler

            common misconception right there. while POTUS is the Commander in Chief of ALL the armed forces…..he IS NOT “the Navy, the Army etc”. he is simply the designated civilian authority as spelled out in the US Constitution. He holds no actual rank in any branch.

          • NavySubNuke

            The only rank he holds is of course the ultimate rank — Commander-in-Chief.
            If you are curious about his level of authority just consider who has the final say if we decide North Korea is about to nuke Tokyo and we decide to have an SSBN nuke them first to prevent it.

          • Jon Tessler

            Yep he has the “ultimate rank”….he is STILL NOT part of the military though.

          • NavySubNuke

            So would you consider that distinction 6 angels on the head of the pin or 5?

  • Duane

    Thornberry is likely correct, there will be no sentiment in Congress for large defense cuts in either party. Obviously neither party, despite false pretensions by the GOP for many decades now (going back to the Reagan years), cares about budget deficits, though they should. It’s all been just rhetoric.

    BCA is going away in two years no matter what, and there is no love lost in either party for it, so the BCA limits will be eliminated altoghether for its last two years.

    However, large defense increases as seen in the last two years are not going to be repeated.

    • EyeInTheSkye

      If the economy hits a bump in the next couple years (god-forbid, during the 2020 election), there won’t be any revenue flexibility to even continue steady-state with the current budgets. And, as we have seen time and time again, the GOP only cares about deficits when it isn’t in power…so if they lose control of the House, get ready for them to start yelling about fiscal responsibility as the Democrats attempt to raise taxes on those who can afford to pay in order to reinstate fiscal sanity.

      • Duane

        The boys who cried wolf. All in the GOP.