By: Leo Shane III, Military Times
A top House Republican will push for adding $17 billion to the Democrat-proposed defense authorization bill total, arguing the current plan shortchanges critical personnel and construction accounts needed to maintain military readiness.
The amendment from Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, would add $1.2 billion in personnel spending and nearly $750 million in training funding in the House Armed Services Committee’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill. That money is already included in the authorization bill draft passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The military’s budget must grow between three and five percent through 2025 in order to restore readiness and maintain our competitive edge against Russia and China,” Thornberry, the House committee’s top Republican, said in a statement. “The (Democrats’ plan) does not meet that standard.”
The money is unlikely to find its way into the House draft, given Democrats’ public position to rein in military spending as they push for other domestic priorities.
But the public debate on the issue will function as a preview of the behind-the-scenes fight to come over spending levels for fiscal 2020. Negotiations on the figure are expected to take place through the summer.
Earlier on Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he is comfortable with the draft bill’s $733 billion spending target, noting the number had been the target of defense planners before President Donald Trump picked a higher figure late last year.
“I’m very worried that addition of $17 billion will not be particularly well spent,” he said during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I worry that no matter what the levels are, they are people who are going to want more.”
But during an expected day-long mark-up of the legislation on Wednesday, Thornberry will argue that the additional money is needed to fill important gaps in defense priorities.
For example, both sides back a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops next year, but senior Republican committee staff said the total personnel spending levels don’t cover the full costs of that hike. Without the extra $1.2 billion, they argue, defense officials may have to dip into retirement pays and housing allowance accounts.
Another $3.6 billion in Thornberry’s plan would go to replacing money taken earlier this year from military construction projects for President Donald Trump’s border wall. Democrats have refused to replenish that money, a move that Republican staffers call unfair for the base planners caught in the political fight.
Other money would go towards upgrades of various aircraft, military bases and nuclear readiness priorities.
The defense authorization bill, which has passed Congress for 58 consecutive years, includes a host of bonus and specialty pay provisions, as well as new requirements designed to provide additional oversight on military housing and sexual assault response.