Smith worried about 'legislative hostage-takers' in FY-24 budget

By Tony Bertuca / January 11, 2023 at 4:51 PM

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the former chairman and current ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said today that getting a final fiscal year 2024 appropriations package in place is likely to be a challenge, given the new Republican majority in the House that is focused on capping spending.

“The legislative hostage-takers don't seem to care if the federal government functions,” he said today at the Brookings Institution.

“So, on the debt ceiling and on the appropriations bills, they have shown a willingness to take hostages and a certain enthusiasm for executing those hostages whether necessary or not. So, that's going to be a challenge.”

House Republicans are presently debating how they would cap discretionary spending at FY-22 levels, though there is confusion about whether they would seek to slash the defense budget.

Meanwhile, some House Republicans are expected to push to increase the $858 billion defense budget by 3% to 5% above the rate of inflation.

Smith said he thinks there will not be a $1 trillion defense budget in FY-24.

“I think it's highly unlikely we're going to be looking at a $1 trillion defense budget this year,” he said. “I mean, the biggest challenge we have in that regard is just to have a budget.”

Smith said he ultimately supported an $858 billion defense topline for FY-23 even though he thought the Pentagon could get by with less because he didn’t want to hold up the National Defense Authorization Act, which has been passed into law every year for more than six decades.

“I believe in democracy more than I believe in my own opinion,” he said. “You don't have to burn the house down just because they didn't give you what you want.”

Todd Harrison, managing director of Metrea Strategic Insights and previously an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently told Inside Defense in an email that he see sees “a lot of similarities” between the political climate of 2023 and 2011 when it comes to the debate over spending cuts.

“While I don't think we will end up with something exactly like the Budget Control Act and sequestration, I am increasingly seeing signs that we are headed in the same general direction,” he said. “Twelve years ago, it was disagreements over how to reduce overall federal spending (not defense specifically) that led to both sides taking the defense budget hostage. It didn't work out well for defense then, and I don't see why this time around would be any different. One can only hope that enough people in Congress and the executive branch still have scar tissue from the BCA that they won't let things go in that direction again.”

Harrison pointed out that, at the time, DOD was able to skirt BCA spending caps by placing tens of billions of dollars annually in its now defunct Overseas Contingency Operations account.

“This time around there would be no easy way to get around the budget caps like the OCO loophole,” he said.