The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is pushing his GOP colleagues to support a new two-year budget deal secured this week by the Trump administration and House Democrats, but acknowledged the lower funding topline for defense and impact on the U.S. government’s overall debt may become sticking points.
HASC Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters July 24 that although he would have preferred more than the $738 billion topline allocated for defense in H.R. 3877, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, the “predictability” of passing a budget and the ability to get funding to the U.S. military on time “is a really significant factor.”
Thornberry and his Republican colleague in the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), both rapidly announced their support for the proposed bill after it was reached Monday evening, despite vocally advocating for a $750 billion budget topline as proposed in the initial FY ’20 Presidential budget request. The proposed act includes $738 billion for defense in fiscal year 2020, and $741.5 billion in FY ’21 (Defense Daily, July 23). The House passed its version of the FY ’20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with a $733 billion topline earlier this month, while the Senate-passed version funded defense spending at $750 billion.
Thornberry noted that the increased funding numbers over the House-passed NDAA – which funded the Defense Department at $733 billion – to the proposed bill would mostly fall victim to inflation rates. However, “I don’t think I’ve met anybody at DoD or industry who doesn’t agree with the fact that 738 on time is more valuable than 750 in December or January, after you’ve gone through a [continuing resolution] and had all of the uncertainty that goes with that.”
The two-year deal would also help lawmakers avoid building a budget for fiscal year 2021 during a presidential election year that will likely prove distracting, Thornberry added. “Who knows the chaos that’s coming next year.”
The House will “most likely” vote on the bill Thursday, Thornberry said. Sources on the Hill said if it passes the House, members will likely leave Washington, D.C., Thursday evening for their annual August recess, one day earlier than scheduled.
The Senate would then take it up for a vote before its members leave for recess Aug. 2. Lawmakers are expected back Sept. 9.
Thornberry said he continues to work to persuade other HASC members to support the bill.
“I think most will – I hope – and we’re still having those conversations,” he said.
Some committee members have already come out against it. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who sits on the HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee and is also a member of the House Freedom Caucus that advocates for more conservative positions within the chamber, said in a Wednesday floor speech that he will vote against the “financially irresponsible” bill.
“Numerous Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretaries of Defense have warned that America’s debt is our greatest national security threat, because debt and an ensuing national bankruptcy and insolvency have the ability to damage America’s military and national security more than any enemy ever has,” Brooks said. “I agree with and heed their warnings.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a progressive HASC member, said Tuesday evening that he appreciates that the budget deal lifts the debt ceiling and “moves us past the austerity of the Budget Control Act.” But he remains concerned about the increased level of defense spending since President Trump took office, and has not yet said whether he will vote for the bill.