In the House, Full Speed Ahead on Defense Spending

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, wants to increase defense spending. It might not be that simple. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry says he is “moving forward” to mark up a fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill the week before the Independence Day recess at about $705 billion.

But, the Texas Republican said, talks are ongoing among senior lawmakers and it is “possible” there could be “some adjustment” to that amount.

“If, in the next several days, we get Budget and Appropriations and our committee on the same page, which includes not just what we spend this year but the next several years, our folks would look at it,” he told reporters on Thursday.

For now, then, Thornberry is setting up a defense policy measure (HR 2810) that would authorize spending $640 billion for the base budget and, he revealed, about $65 billion for war accounts.

The $705 billion total would be $37 billion more than the president requested. More importantly, the base budget figure is $91 billion more than the budget cap in law allows.

The cap in law applies to appropriators, not authorizers like Thornberry, he noted.

The upshot is that, barring a major new budget deal in the very near future that is orders of magnitude friendlier to the Pentagon than any that has happened so far, Thornberry’s measure will effectively represent a pie-in-the-sky wish list more than an authorization of likely spending levels.

Thornberry said he could not countenance recommending a smaller defense budget. He underscored the bill’s higher pay raise for troops; its requirements for a larger Army, Navy and Air Force; its proposals to streamline Pentagon acquisitions; its stress on improving readiness; and its authorization of more spending on missile defense and shipbuilding than the administration sought.

He also pointed to the fact that it would authorize increased spending for cyber programs, Asia-Pacific defenses and restocking inventories of key munitions.

He noted, too, that the full committee bill does not authorize another round of base closures.

Thornberry also outlined parts of the bill that had not been previously disclosed.

The roughly $65 billion war authorization had not been confirmed, though it does not come as a surprise. He acknowledged the figure could change based on changes to troop levels in Afghanistan, among other possible variables.

Thornberry also revealed that the measure would require that the European Defense Initiative, a program to bolster U.S. and allied forces in Eastern Europe, would move to the base budget from the overseas account. He said the change reflects the fact that the initiative is an abiding program.

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