A lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives is calling for a fiscal 2016 defense budget that would exceed spending caps by $50 billion.
Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, submitted the proposal in a letter Friday to Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, and chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Thornberry and most of his colleagues on the defense panel recommended a national defense budget of $577 billion. The account includes funding for defense-related activities at the Pentagon and Energy Departments, and excludes funding for war operations. That would restore spending to a level proposed before the 2011 passage of deficit-reduction legislation known as the Budget Control Act.
The figure is $16 billion more than the Obama administration's request -- which already exceeds spending caps for the Defense Department's base budget by about $35 billion. More importantly, it signals a growing divide within the GOP over how much funding the Pentagon should receive at a time when the U.S. military is taking on new missions in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
"America faces a wider array of serious threats today than at any other time in our history," Thornberry said in a release. "It is more important than ever that we invest in our own security."
While defense hawks like Thornberry and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, are pushing for more military spending and an end to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, budget hawks such as Price are trying to reduce overall federal spending to cut the deficit and balance the budget.
Price wasted no time in criticizing President Obama's spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 -- even though it included more money for defense than what sequestration allows for.
"The president is advocating more spending, more taxes and more debt," he said in a release. "As we have seen over the past several years, that approach will yield less opportunity for the middle class and a crushing burden of debt that threatens both our future prosperity and our national security. A proposal that never balances is not a serious plan for America's fiscal future. Especially when we have to borrow money just to afford the programs we already have."
Thornberry, who is crafting his first defense budget after assuming the helm of the armed services committee earlier this year, seemed to acknowledge the difficulty his proposal faces in Congress.
"If this is not feasible in the first year, the committee recommends, at a minimum, last year's House-passed Budget Resolution level of $566 billion for national defense in the base budget for FY16 with restoration to pre-sequestration level funding in FY17 and out," he wrote in the letter.
At the same time, Thornberry sought to make his case by highlighting the numerous national-security challenges facing the military.
"Sophisticated competitors, such as Russia and China, have dramatically increased their defense spending in recent years, leading to belligerent behavior in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the South China Sea and East China Sea," he wrote. "Threats from Iran, including its nuclear and missile programs and its support for terrorism through its Quds Force and proxies, continue to create instability and insecurity among our partners in the region."
He added, "North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs continue to threaten the region and the U.S. homeland. The dangers posed by extremist jihadists are growing in strength and geographic reach while they shock the world with their brutality."
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at email@example.com