Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), chided the Senate Oct. 19 for considering a fiscal year 2018 budget resolution that delays a decision on whether to boost defense spending.

The resolution, which is intended mainly to pave the way for tax reform legislation, would provide $549 billion for defense, $54 billion less than what the Trump administration requested and $86 billion less than what the Senate-passed FY 2018 defense authorization bill would provide.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

“Even as we support this resolution as a means to achieve meaningful tax reform, we must acknowledge the fact that the underlying budget contains an insufficient level of funding for national defense,” McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor.

While Congress is expected to ultimately approve more defense spending when it reaches an agreement on its FY 2018 appropriations bills, such an agreement could be months away. In the meantime, the Department of Defense and other agencies are living under a continuing resolution (CR) that limits them to funding caps set in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

McCain said DoD cannot afford to wait for more money because it urgently needs to modernize and maintain equipment and bolster training, among other needs. He cited a recent rash of fatal aviation and ship accidents as evidence that years of inadequate funding have strained the military.

“The Republican Party used to be unified in its support for a strong national defense,” McCain said. “If our leaders in Congress and the White House do not immediately get to work negotiating a deal to lift the defense caps and fund the military at a level higher than what is in this budget resolution, I’m not sure we’ll be able to claim that mantle any longer.”

McCain noted that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent a letter to the SASC this week saying the budget caps, also known as sequestration, are his top concern as a House-Senate conference committee negotiates the final FY 2018 defense authorization bill.

“As I have testified before your committee, no enemy has done more to harm the warfighting readiness of our military than sequestration,” Mattis wrote. “Current caps continue to unnecessarily defer critical maintenance, limit aviation availability, delay modernization and strain our men and women in uniform.”

Separately, the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), released a “defense drumbeat” Oct. 19 complaining that the CR, which prohibits new acquisitions, is preventing the Air Force from buying much-needed new wings for its aging but heavily used A-10 attack aircraft.

“The A-10 is a workhorse in the fight against ISIS, so much so that we are literally flying the wings off them,” the committee wrote. “Without a contract to produce replacement A-10 wings, the Air Force may be forced into retiring some A-10s as early as 2019.”