Congress has rejected President Donald Trump’s defense budget proposal.
Both the Senate and the House armed services committees have authorized more resources for the Department of Defense than what the Trump administration asked for.
These are great developments that show Congress is taking seriously the problems that plague our armed forces.
Both committees got within the ballpark of The Heritage Foundation’s recommended topline of $632 billion for the base discretionary budget. The Senate decided on $640 billion, and the House agreed on $621 billion. All these numbers are above Trump’s request of $603 billion.
Heritage’s work also estimates close to $14 billion in savings from reforms that would improve how the Department of Defense operates.
Upon the release of the president’s 2018 budget request, the general assessment on Capitol Hill and in the broader D.C. community was that it would not be enough to start rebuilding the military.
In testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the first priority of the fiscal year 2018 defense budget would be to focus on near-term readiness problems, while rebuilding the military would be a task for 2019 and beyond.
The armed services committees rejected the notion that America should wait until 2019 to start rebuilding its armed forces.
Although it is convenient to postpone investment in the force as a task for another time and another budget, the consequences on sustained underinvestment will inevitably come home to roost.
For years, the defense budget prioritized short-term readiness over modernization and recapitalization of the force, resulting in a military that is growing old and tired.
Since the first publication of The Heritage Foundation’s Index of U.S. Military Strength in 2015, U.S. military capabilities, capacity, and readiness gradually and predictably declined. The “let’s start tomorrow” mentality must end.
The House and Senate armed services committees rejected the continued trade-offs and added more resources in order to start rebuilding the military now. However, the Budget Control Act caps are still in place, limiting the statutorily allowed defense discretionary budget to $549 billion for 2018.
Barring a repeal or amendment of the Budget Control Act, appropriations in excess of this limit would automatically be cut through sequestration or would have to be provided through overseas contingency operations funding, which is “off book.”
As such, in order to follow through with a boost to defense accounts and to return much-needed stability to the annual appropriations process, the rest of Congress must cooperate to change current budget caps and find a long-term solution to our current fiscal problems.
The solution cannot be to simply increase spending across the board and go further into debt. Congress must indeed make choices and prioritize rebuilding out military while reducing government expenditures in other areas.
Rebuilding the military is not going to be a one-year effort. Restoring U.S. military power to acceptable levels will depend on sustained budgetary real growth of at least 5 percent.
Signs indicate that Republicans in the House have been able to agree on the numbers for both defense and nondefense, which is a good initial step.
Nonetheless, the key to unlocking the puzzle resides in the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats will have to come together in order to be capable of changing or repealing the budget caps.
Otherwise, all the work that went into forging an agreement in rebuilding our military will become a futile academic exercise.
This is why lawmakers currently home in their districts should think of how they are going to come together to change the Budget Control Act caps and fund our defense needs.
Our armed forces and our nation depend on our Congress’ ability to forge agreement on this key issue.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal