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Thornberry To Trump: Don’t Shut Us Down

Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on


Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-TX

Rep. Mac Thornberry, HASC chairman

CAPITOL HILL:  Less than two hours after President Trump tweeted that a government shutdown might be a good thing, the conservative Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said, no.

“It would be better for the country if the Pentagon and the military do not shut down at any point, because the threats to the country do not shut down,” Rep. Mac Thornberry told reporters this morning. “My impression is the president is frustrated with the legislative process, especially in the other body (i.e. the Senate), and I share that frustration… but when men and women volunteer to risk their lives to defend us, we have a moral obligation to support them in every way possible — and I have no doubt in my mind the President shares that view, because I’ve heard him say it.”

Thornberry has critiqued Trump in the past, albeit more politely than his Senate counterpart John McCain. Both chairmen repeatedly called Trump’s proposed defense budget inadequate and argued for $640 billion for fiscal 2018, not the president’s proposed $603. “I do not think $603 (billion) is enough to accomplish what the president promised,” Thornberry repeated today.

The 50% Solution For 2017

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. photo

Sen. John McCain and Rep Mac Thornberry, chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees

Also, Thornberry isn’t thrilled that the 2017 spending deal heading for a vote tomorrow increases defense by half as much as Trump requested. But, the HASC chairman said, he’s going to vote for it as a first step.

The omnibus bill “is not enough to fix our military, but there is some money to begin to fix readiness,” Thornberry said, “(and) the consequences of a CR are just so disastrous for the military it’s essential to avoid that.” The “disastrous” CR refers to the prospect of a year-long Continuing Resolution that sets federal spending on autopilot at last year’s levels with little leeway to start, stop, or modify programs.

A year-long CR looked likely because of the legislative deadlock over a proper spending bill. Democrats had insisted that any increase in defense spending above the Budget Control Act caps must be matched with a dollar-for-dollar increase in domestic programs. Republican budget hawks had insisted any defense increase be paid for dollar-for-dollar with domestic cuts. Yet congressional leadership sailed between this Scylla and Charybdis to produce an omnibus spending bill that increased defense by $15 billion while largely leaving domestic spending alone. In quality, if not quantity, that’s the kind of agreement Republican defense hawks like Thornberry wanted.

“Despite the fact this is only about half of what the president asked for… it is a significant achievement that the bonds are broken with other political agendas,” Thornberry said.  “It’s really important to have defense stand on its own merits (without) holding our military hostage to some other political agenda.”

“I’m sure it’ll pass, I’ll support it, and then we’ll move to ’18,” Thornberry said.

The chairman wants to move fast on next year’s bill:

  • Assuming the administration’s budget request is released the week of May 22nd, Thornberry said,
  • he wants his subcommittee chairman to submit their mark-ups (revisions) by “mid to late June,”
  • get the full committee mark-up done before Congress goes home for 4th of July,
  • and then get the bill on the House floor in July, before the August recess.

Of course, even if the House meets these deadlines for intramural progress, it will almost certainly have to wait for the far slower Senate, not to mention cope with the triangular dysfunction of Republicans, Democrats, and Trump.

New Pentagon from river entrance

Acquisition Reform, Round 2

In parallel to the budget process, Thornberry will propose a raft of reforms to defense acquisition. (The plan is to get feedback on the reform proposals as a stand-alone bill before rolling them into the main National Defense Authorization Act). Building on last year’s reform package, Thornberry said, he and McCain will work to refine the ongoing break-up of the huge Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics bureaucracy.

“The essential nature of it, I think it is clear, and that was to have a high-level undersecretary responsible for innovation,” Thornberry said. At a detailed level, however, “there is some question about where some of the other pieces that were under AT&L fit in this new organization….It’s amazing how many people and organizations reported ultimately up through ATL, and part of what that concern was it got so big it could not be managed.”

Thornberry also wants to “empower” the Defense Department acquisition workforce, for example with new training on intellectual property negotiations. He also wants to make the Pentagon run “more like a business” — not easy when no business has a board of directors as huge, as activist or as conflicted as Congress. To get the Hill at least partially out of the way, Thornberry plans on “streamlining some of the legislative requirements that have built up over the years that tie the department’s hands.” The trick is whether Thornberry and McCain can roll back restrictions faster than the rest of Congress adds them.

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