The House Armed Services Committee cleared a $696.5 billion fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill last week, but supporters warn it will be sliced back if the 2010 Budget Control Act isn't repealed or if Congress lets partisanship continue to cause late, unstable budgets for the military.
Even with Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, lawmakers remain so divided on budget priorities that this year they can't agree on a blueprint to set targets for the armed services committees and other panels responsible for federal departments and programs.
Absent such guidance from deadlocked budget committees, the House Armed Services Committee and chairman, Rep. Max Thornberry, R-Texas, marked up a defense policy bill that, he said, "takes significant steps toward repairing and rebuilding our military."
The committee's base defense budget is $631.5 billion with an additional $65 billion to fund current wars in an contingency account. Trump sought a base budget of $603 billion, which Thornberry said was 5 percent above the 2017 defense budget but only 3 percent higher than President Obama planned for fiscal 2018. He said the Trump '18 budget "would cut missile defense below current spending, cut shipbuilding accounts (and) add no additional soldiers."
Though the House bill supports $696 billion overall for defense, "it is highly unlikely that at the end of this process we're going to have $696 billion," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
If the House budget bill does get squeezed harder, the pace for restoring force readiness will be slowed but the issues at stake for military compensation and quality of life are thinner than before.
The committee proposes that service members get a modestly larger pay raise of 2.4 percent next January, enough to match recent wage growth in the private sector, instead of a 2.1 percent pay raise cap sought by the Trump team.
The committee would increase the active Army by 10,000 soldiers, the National Guard by 4,000 and Reserve by 3,000 soldiers, strength gains not sought in Trump's first defense budget request because a new national strategy is being worked on by new Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Joint Chiefs.
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