- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2017

Congressional Republicans are looking to push the envelope on defense spending, even as a key conservative think tank claimed Monday that President Trump’s first defense budget falls far short of the promises he made on the campaign trail in 2016.

House and Senate lawmakers hope to add billions of dollars to the Pentagon budget request submitted by the White House last month. Lawmakers say the additional funds are needed to repair the damage done by military cuts during the Obama administration.

Earlier this year, Mr. Trump touted his first Pentagon budget request as the vehicle that would rebuild the U.S. armed forces back from the strength levels not seen since the post-Vietnam era.

But the $603 billion base budget for the Pentagon, plus the $65 billion for ongoing combat operations, called for by Mr. Trump’s national security team, merely “repairs” the damage done via past budget cuts and falls short of what is needed to begin modernizing American forces, analysts at the conservative Washington-based American Enterprise Institute said in a new report Monday.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, released details of his own draft budget plan Monday, calling for nearly $37 billion extra for defense spending, setting the baseline budget at $640 billion.

“Today, we have too many planes that cannot fly, too many ships that cannot sail, too many soldiers who cannot deploy, while too many threats are gathering,” Mr. Thornberry told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Thornberry had planned to unveil his committee’s proposal, including the revised topline figures, last Friday. However, panel members canceled the rollout at the last minute, reportedly over confusion over how high House Republicans wanted to go above President Trump’s proposal. Mr. Thornberry’s bigger defense request is also facing pushback from deficit hawks in the Republican House caucus.

Mr. Thornberry said he would be open to adjusting the panel’s figures once the House and Senate negotiators meet to hammer out a compromise budget outline. But the Texas lawmaker did say the $40 billion increase would likely be part of the full House defense panel’s proposal, he told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday.

The House increase keeps pace with the increases called for by Senate Republicans. The budget proposal drafted by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, also calls for a $640 billion Pentagon base budget. But the Senate panel is calling for an additional $5 billion for the department’s war coffers. The additional funds would be used to finance U.S. operations in eastern Europe aimed at countering Russian aggression in the region.

While both proposed increases should satisfy defense hawks on Capitol Hill, the president’s military budget blueprint “emphasizes the conflicts of today and the wars of the distant future, while discounting the long bar of the medium term, wherein most strategic and military risk lies,” Mackenzie Eaglen, senior defense budget analyst at AEI, said in a new report released Monday.

President Trump’s overall federal spending blueprint suggests that balancing the budget ranks above rebuilding the military in the administration’s list of priorities,” Ms. Eaglen wrote. “This should raise concerns about the president’s commitment to rebuilding the military and his ability to deliver the legislative changes Congress will need to do so.”

While Mr. Trump’s baseline and war funding proposal of $668 billion combined is $33 billion more than what the Pentagon was allocated last fiscal year — $18 billion over what Obama-era defense officials forecasted for this fiscal year, the proposal is a far cry from his campaign promise last year to bring defense spending to a much more ambitious level.

“No honest observer would call this a ‘historic’ increase,” Ms. Eaglen said.

The conservative think tank also faulted the White House’s military investment priorities. The Trump plan, like the Obama budgets before, remains fixated on the “light-footprint wars” in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere that require little U.S. firepower or personnel.

That approach, which leans upon indigenous groups fighting America’s wars, ignores the threat or larger nations like Russia and China. Those conflicts will require a robust conventional forces of more warships, fighters, bombers and tanks. Those valued procurement accounts got short shrift in the Trump budget, Ms. Eaglen says.

Senate Democrats, who have the power to filibuster the new budget, signaled Monday they would be seeking domestic program increases as the price for more Pentagon funding.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and other top Democrats delivered the message in a letter to GOP leaders on Monday that also restated their opposition to Mr. Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, The Associated Press reported.

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