Trump defense budget forces lawmakers’ hand on sequestration

The Trump Administration’s defense supplemental is forcing Congress to deal with sequestration sooner than it expected.

A $30 billion defense supplemental showed up on Congress’ front step today and it’s not what some in the legislative body expected.

The supplemental budget puts an extra $25 billion into the 2017 Defense Department base budget and $5 billion into an emergency wartime spending fund.

In order to add $25 billion to the base budget Congress needs to lift the budget caps of about $551 billion for 2017, otherwise it will trigger sequestration and cause across the board cuts to the government.

The supplemental would bring the proposed 2017 base budget up to $576 billion.

DoD is already funded to the legal limit for 2016 set by the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, which let Congress allocate more funds than sequestration allowed for 2016 and 2017.

DoD is currently operating at 2016 levels because a defense appropriations act has not been signed into law.

The Trump administration also introduced its $603 billion 2018 base budget to Congress. The budget totals $668 billion with mandatory spending and emergency war funding included.

Many in Congress, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, assumed the Trump administration would put all of the $30 billion supplemental in an emergency war fund called overseas contingency operations (OCO), which is not subject to budget caps.

President Trump said in his speech to a joint session of Congress last month that he wanted to end the defense sequester. The supplemental puts pressure on Congress to deal with the defense sequestration issue now, rather than later.

What’s in the supplemental?

The $30 billion budget pays for an increase in Air Force and Army personnel, filling in readiness gaps and adding equipment and services they say they need.

The $5 billion allocated in OCO funding will go toward accelerating the fight against the Islamic State, increasing drone capabilities and filling intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The Army will gain about $7.2 billion from the supplemental. Almost $900 million of that will go to increasing the total Army end strength to more than one million troops.

More than $1 billion would go toward training and readiness. The money would fund increased ground operational tempos and flying hours.

Some other funds will go toward Army infrastructure, which has long been in need of updating.

The Navy receives about $8 billion of the funding. Some of the money goes toward buying patrol aircraft, increasing information warfare funding and improving protective gear.

Scott Maucione discusses this story on Federal Drive with Tom Temin

Funds also go to ship maintenance, an issue the Navy said is a top priority and is keeping some ships from staying out at sea.

The supplemental allocated $1 billion for the Marine Corps, mostly to address readiness issues.

The Air Force gets $6.8 billion in the budget. That would increase the active duty end strength from 317,000 to 321,000 airmen.

“The Air Force will add funding to weapon system sustainment and flying, space and cyber infrastructure, and tools to improve operational performance,” the supplemental overview stated.

Other investments will go to improving aircraft with sensor upgrades and to buying five additional F-35A Lightning II’s.

2018 budget proposal

The administration’s total $668 billion defense budget proposal lacks specific details, but lays out broad areas where funds will go.

A budget overview states some funds will address “pressing shortfalls, such as insufficient stocks of critical munitions, personnel gaps, deferred maintenance and modernization, cyber vulnerabilities, and degraded facilities.”

The budget also promises to rebuild the Army and increase the total number of ships in the Navy fleet.

The 2018 budget will improve readiness in the Air Force and add more F-35s to the service’s arsenal.

Lawmakers are so far critical of the bill.

“It is absolutely essential that we act urgently to repair and rebuild our military.  It is morally wrong to task someone with a mission for which they are not fully prepared and fully supported with the best weapons and equipment this nation can provide.  Our committee has found serious shortcomings today, and they will worsen without immediate action,” Thornberry said in a March 16 statement.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the defense budget is dead on arrival.It is clear that this budget proposed today cannot pass the Senate. Moving forward, it is imperative that we work together to reach a bipartisan agreement that provides sufficient funds to rebuild the military,” McCain’s statement read.

House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) also weighed in, “This budget still does not adequately fund our military at the $640 billion requested by both Chairman Thornberry and Chairman McCain. Additionally, this budget does not fully address sequestration, which cripples our military readiness.”

A graph showing Trump’s budget in comparison to others helps explain Turner’s frustration.

House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) called for an increase in domestic spending along with DoD spending.

“Repealing defense sequestration must be done in concert with eliminating the caps on non-defense spending as well; it cannot come at the expense of critical domestic programs that support families and grow our economy,” a March 16 release stated.