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Congress begins debate over $750 billion defense budget

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Republicans from the House Armed Services Committee officially delivered their “views and estimates” of the president’s fiscal 2020 defense budget request to the Democratic-led House Budget Committee.

In it, they argue that the Trump administration’s $750 billion budget request for the Pentagon would be required to “continue to restore our readiness and to make progress in meeting the threats posed by near-peer competitors, such as Russia and China.”

In the March 11 letter, the committee members, led by ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said, “We are committed to restoring the readiness of our Armed Forces and to implementing institutional reforms that ensure that our military has the best equipment, the best training, and the best pay and benefits our nation can possibly provide.”

They stress that the Defense Department is “unlike many other government programs” and that “national security needs must necessarily reflect the strategic environment in which we find ourselves.”

“We have consistently received testimony that the United States faces the most complex security challenges in its history from a variety of actors using a multitude of tools and tactics,” the letter stated.

It also outlined several areas of concern for the committee members, including what they termed “Readiness Restoration.”

“The funding levels Congress provided for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 began to rebuild our military, repairing damage caused by years of high demands and low budgets,” the letter said.

“The military services have begun the long process of simultaneously restoring forces and equipment worn down by years of combat and accelerating critical modernization programs to stay ahead of strategic competitors with modern militaries, such as China and Russia.

“A return to an unstable and uncertain budget situation would be incredibly irresponsible, especially when we already know the consequences.”

The members highlighted their concerns about ground forces, saying that they are “struggling to balance executing current and ongoing missions, focused mainly on non-state actors, while simultaneously preparing to deter future conflict.”

Operating at that high operational pace coupled with the “consequences of earlier reductions to their authorized personnel levels” have put a strain on the ground forces, members said.

In addition to the focus on non-state actors, “the Army and Marine Corps must also renew their focus on fighting and winning high-end conflicts against near-peer state competitors.”

The committee’s chairman doesn’t agree with the defense budget request.

At a recent conference in Washington, HASC Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said that he favors a $733 billion topline for defense spending, less than the $750 billion requested by the administration.

“The one thing that I would emphasize is there are a lot of ways to deter adversaries, not just through the size of your military,” he said.

“The House Budget Committee, the number that they’ve talked about for defense is $733 billion.”

Julie Rudowski is AUSA’s Government Affairs Assistant Director.