GOP defense chairmen draw line over budget

By Tony Bertuca / November 30, 2018 at 11:10 AM

Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees used an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today to send a message to President Trump, arguing he should submit a $733 billion defense budget in February, not the $700 billion version Pentagon officials say they have been directed to write by the White House.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and his House counterpart Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) write today that a smaller budget would undo progress made by a 2018 bipartisan budget deal that injected an additional $165 billion into defense.

"The Pentagon would be forced to cut in areas where the most money can be saved quickly -- troops, new equipment, training and maintenance -- as it did under sequestration in 2013," they write. "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be asked to find $33 billion, for example, by planning for lower troop levels, diminishing the U.S. capability to stay ahead of China and Russia, sacrificing readiness -- or all three."

The GOP lawmakers note Democrats may favor a smaller defense budget and some, like Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), who is expected to replace Thornberry next year as House Armed Services Committee chairman, have publicly supported cutting Pentagon spending.

Additionally, White House national security adviser John Bolton has said the defense budget should be cut to help control skyrocketing deficits.

But Thornberry and Inhofe argue that cutting defense to improve fiscal sustainability is a "false choice."

"Cutting defense will not close the deficit," they write. "The deficit would keep growing even if we eliminated the entire Pentagon budget. The president and Congress should not be duped into a false choice: rebuild our military or accept deep and growing deficits."

But Smith sent Inside Defense a statement signaling his support for a leaner defense budget.

"Simply spending more money on defense doesn’t make you safer, but spending wisely does," he said.

Smith said he wants to cut spending on nuclear modernization and do "aggressive oversight of the Pentagon's budget and weapon programs."

Inhofe, meanwhile, unveiled his top defense priorities this week in an interview with Inside Defense.

In the interview, Inhofe said he believed the White House would eventually reverse course on its call for a $700 billion defense budget, noting that Trump's advisers might not fully understand the GOP's position.

"I don't think they're going to end up on $700 [billion]," he said.

Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said he found reports of the Trump administration's proposed defense cut to be "especially alarming."