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Thornberry Fires Back At SecDef Over OCO Spending

Posted by Colin Clark on

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Rep. Mac Thornberry

STUTTGART, GERMANY: HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, responding to comments by Defense Secretary Ash Carter which we reported yesterday, rejected criticisms about a spending gimmick the House Armed Services Committee chairman hopes to use to improve readiness for the U.S. military.

Thornberry was reacting to comments Carter made en route to Stuttgart for the European Command change of command ceremony. “The proposal is take the money out of the wartime funding account during wartime,” Carter had said.

The HASC bill would limit Overseas Contingency Operations funding to seven months for fiscal 2017 — counting on the next president to request the last five months’ funding in a separate bill — and shift $18 billion to what Thornberry describes as modernization and readiness.

Carter described the move tor reporters as “objectionable on the face of it.” He did not say if he would recommend President Obama veto the bill as is (which the president did last year), but it certainly sounded like it. We contacted his spokesman here asking if Carter would recommend a veto. Peter Cook said in an email he’d let his boss’ comments stand as “it’s early in the process.” However, the White House did veto the bill last year and the authorizers did change their bill as part of a larger budget deal.

The HASC statement included a note “that the President’s own Budget Request allocated $5 billion from wartime accounts to fulfill non-wartime requirements,” which is true. But then emergency spending bill have long been used to pass things that might not otherwise get funded.

Here’s what Thornberry said in a statement: “What’s objectionable is deploying troops who aren’t fully trained, whose equipment is worn out, and who didn’t get the resources they needed back home to be ready to face our enemies overseas. What’s objectionable is cutting the military well below levels anyone thinks is wise, denying our troops their pay raise for three years in a row, forcing them to live in crumbling barracks or work in hangars that have literally been condemned.  I am determined to turn our readiness crisis around, even if I have to do it over the Secretary’s objections.”

Of course, the next step will be to see whether the Senate Armed Services Committee takes the same approach as the HASC. And it’s absolutely unclear at this stage whether appropriators, who actually decide who gets how much money and for what, will do.

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