Trump’s proposed big military budget no sure thing

Trump's proposed big military budget no sure thing

WASHINGTON — Republicans control Congress so President Donald Trump’s pledge to boost the Pentagon budget by tens of billions of dollars should be a sure bet.

It’s not.

Trump faces skeptical Democrats whose support he’ll need and resistance from fiscal conservatives opposed to repealing a 2011 law that set firm limits on military and domestic spending. Unless the president figures out a way to mollify the disparate camps, he’ll have a tough time delivering on a signature campaign promise to rescue the armed forces from a festering financial crisis.

Senior U.S. commanders have flatly warned that the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act are squeezing the armed forces so hard that the number of ready-to-fight units is dwindling. That means beating powers such as Russia or China is tougher than it used to be as aging equipment stacks up, waiting to be repaired, and troops don’t get enough training.

Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army’s vice chief of staff, startled many lawmakers when he testified recently that just three of the service’s 58 active-duty and reserve brigade combat teams are ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

Allyn and other four-star officers pleaded during separate hearings in the House and Senate for the spending limits to be repealed, clearing the way for the bigger budgets they say are needed to stop the military’s readiness for combat from decaying further.

“We need to act now before it’s too late,” said Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff.

The average age of Air Force aircraft is 27 years, according to Wilson, who added that more than half of the service’s inventory would qualify for antique vehicle license plates in Virginia. On top of that, the Air Force is short 1,500 pilots and 3,400 aircraft maintainers, he said.

The Navy and Marine Corps are experiencing the same turbulence.

Trump, speaking at a White House news conference Thursday, said he’s ordered a plan for a “massive rebuilding” of the armed forces. He didn’t disclose how much he expected his blueprint to cost.

National security hawks in Congress have suggested a defence budget of $700 billion in 2018 — more than at any point during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total, which includes $60 billion for overseas combat operations, is $91 billion over the mandatory spending cap.

That’s just a down payment to begin digging out of a readiness problem the Pentagon’s top brass says will take years to fix. GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has envisioned annual increases of between 3 per cent and 4 per cent, culminating with an $800 billion budget for the armed forces in 2022.

Securing these sizable and sustained increases will require repealing the Budget Control Act. Trump, however, has proposed to eliminate only the budget limit on defence. That’s a nonstarter for Democrats, who have long demanded parity between the two broad categories of federal spending.

They’ve argued that Trump’s approach will continue to restrict the budgets of the departments of State, Treasury and Justice, all of which play essential national security roles.

“We’ve always insisted, on our side of the aisle, that as long as the caps are in place, there should be equal relief,” said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee.

Trump will need at least a handful of Democrats on his side: It’ll take 60 votes in the Senate to undo the budget law and Republicans hold 52 seats.

Republicans hold a larger majority in the House, but the party’s deficit hawks are a significant obstacle. They see the caps as blunt yet effective tools to curb federal spending and prevent the national debt from spiraling further out of control.

“We’re walking into a financial train wreck that is going to have implications not just in terms of national security but in terms of everyone’s financial security,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. “It would be disastrous to simply abandon the caps with no other alternative in place.”

But not everyone is convinced that the Pentagon is struggling so mightily.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Jackie Speier, a liberal California Democrat and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, contend the current defence budget of $611 billion is already more than China and Russia spend on their militaries combined.

On top of that, money is being wasted on bases and installations that are no longer needed but remain open because the GOP-led Congress has so far refused to allow a new round of base closures.

“No one wants to see bases close,” Speier said. “But we have a certain pot of money and we’ve got to use it smartly.”

___

Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

___

This story has been corrected to reflect that Trump’s news conference was Thursday, not Wednesday.

Richard Lardner, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Reel Reviews: A shallower Deadpool

We say, “It is more of the same for Deadpool 2.”

Kelowna Vegan Festival takes over the Rotary Centre

The plant based creations stem from wanting to create a product that brings people together

UPDATE: West Kelowna fire deemed suspicious, crews dousing hot spots

Boucherie fire quiet overnight, mop-up continues, while evacuees have returned home.

Where to find the best ingredients for a vegan charcuterie board in the Okanagan

It’s warming up, pair your summer whites with a vegan charcuterie creation

Airbnb hosts earning millions in the Okanagan

The Okanagan was among the list of three Canadian wine markets.

Trans Mountain pipeline: Is it worth the risk?

Concerns range from the threat of an oil spill to the impact of tanker traffic on wildlife

Wildfire sparked north of Merritt, estimated 8 hectares

BC Wildfire Service is responding to the fire near Chattaway Lake FSR 27 kilometres north of Merritt

Call for artists for upcoming South Okanagan exhibition

The Penticton Art Gallery is inviting artists from across the globe to submit artworks

B.C. to spend $181M to create 200 general practitioner jobs

Jobs will go to new medical school graduates

Vernon company wins Ozone best production

Powerhouse Theatre’s Calendar Girls will move on to the Theatre BC Mainstage Festival

Host AquaJets fly at long course invitational

Kelowna swim club wins team title at annual spring meet at H2O

Federal leaders trade barbs about India trip at press gallery dinner

Justin Trudeau’s infamous trip to India earlier this year was the focus of many of the jabs

Most Read