White House May Backtrack on Defense Budget Deal: Thornberry

In this June 11, 2014 file photo, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
In this June 11, 2014 file photo, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said he's concerned President Barack Obama will renege on the recent federal budget deal designed in part to bolster military spending from across-the-board caps.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, told reporters on Wednesday at the National Press Club that he never believed the two-year funding deal gave the Pentagon enough money, but voted for it regardless because "it was better to accept less than is required in order to be assured that the funds will be there."

He said, "After the budget brinkmanship of the Obama years, budget stability, even for just two years, counts for a lot."

But Thornberry said the White House is now considering for fiscal 2017 reducing the $573 billion in the base defense budget while not increasing the $59 billion in war funding, known as the overseas contingency operations, or OCO.

The timing for any such reductions couldn't be worse, said Thornberry, who added that the budget agreement "was reached more than two weeks before the Paris terrorist attacks and the pace of our military operations is much greater than it was then."

"But rather than ask for more money to cover the cost of the accelerated level of operations, the administration may be considering, it seems, lowering the base amount and not asking for the increased OCO," Thornberry said. "They do that, that cuts people, that cuts weapons, that cuts research, that cuts military capability."

The budget deal added billions of more dollars to the Pentagon's operation and maintenance account for additional training exercises, as well as for weapons procurement.

But Thornberry said the security situation has worsened in just the past month, with reports of the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as ISIL, trying to develop chemical weapons, heat-seeking missiles and drones. He also claimed there is evidence that ISIL operatives are in the U.S. working to carry out terrorist attacks.

In just the past two weeks, he said, growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have brought the region closer to another conflict, North Korea has conducted another nuclear weapons test, Russia reportedly took down parts of Ukraine's power grid, China began flying aircraft onto the man-made islands constructed in the South China Sea, and Iran reportedly fired missiles close to U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.

"Who knows what the next two weeks or two months of 2016 will hold?" Thornberry said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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