Ranks grow in call for larger 2018 defense budget

A growing number of Republicans are joining in to demand a higher defense budget than what President Donald Trump proposed for 2018.

A cadre of 33 House Republicans penned a letter to the House Budget Committee claiming the United States has a responsibility to bump up the 2018 defense budget to $640 billion.

President Trump’s request currently sits at $603 billion, a 3.2 percent increase from President Obama’s 2018 suggestion.

The House Republicans aren’t alone in their insistence that the 2018 budget increase. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a proposed budget in January that also tied the budget to $640 billion.

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During a March 8 conversation with reporters House Armed Services Committee Chairman and author of the letter Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he thinks the budget at this point is “a conversation.”

“The administration put out a proposal that was totally offset within the domestic discretionary budget, and you have at least the State Department and so forth. I don’t think those sorts of cuts will happen, but this is a conversation so they wanted to put that out there and get feedback from their agencies. But we are the first branch of government and we have a say in it too, so it’s a continuing conversation,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry is referring to Trump’s proposal to cut $54 billion from domestic programs and then put that money into the Pentagon.

The 16-page letter, which is signed by almost every Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, lays out a case for increasing the military.

“The trend line of defense funding is going in the wrong direction, which is having a direct impact on our country’s ability to address threats to our security, interests and values, and to deter aggression from adversaries and rising regional powers,” the letter stated.

The letter points out the U.S. is losing its air dominance, pointing to testimony by Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Stephen Wilson last month.

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“We find ourselves less than 50 percent ready across our Air Force and we have pockets that are below that,” Wilson said during his February testimony.

The letter also points out maintenance issues for the current naval fleet, depleted stocks of precision guided munitions and a backlog of training for service members.

That’s not to mention DoD facilities, nearly 19 percent of which are considered failing, and maintenance of the nuclear arsenal.

A budget of $640 billion for 2018 “begins to reverse the downward force readiness trends highlighted by our top military advisors, while remaining fiscally responsible,” the letter stated.

But critics are worried the defense budget is becoming unbearably bloated with waste and lawmakers are just throwing more money at the problem.

DoD is the only government agency that is not audit ready. It is not fully accountable for the money it spends.

A high profile 2015 report from the Pentagon stated DoD could save $125 billion over five years just by cutting contractors and streamlining some practices. That money could be saved without firing a single person.

“The growth in Defense infrastructure has been continuous. The tendency has been to add, rather than subtract. As we have added more staff, more layers and more infrastructure, we have slowed the decision process, expanded the number of players and made the overall system more risk averse, at a time when we need to take more risk and make quicker decisions,” Arnold Punaro, a member of the Defense Business Board, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015.

The DoD is spending more now than it spent during the peak of President Ronald Reagan’s buildup of the military. However, war fighting forces are 40 percent to 50 percent smaller, Punaro said. He added that infrastructure within DoD is costing about $240 billion and using more than 1 million people.

Additionally, defense budget planning has been repeatedly stymied by Congress with multiple years of continuing resolutions.

For now, Congress is doing its best to move ahead on the $569.5 billion 2017 defense appropriations bill. The bill adds $59.5 billion for emergency war spending, making the total bill almost $619 billion.

The House passed that bill on March 8, but it still needs to be passed by the Senate. DoD has been operating under a continuing resolution since October.