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Congress May Pass 'at Least' $18 Billion in More Defense Funds

Early next month, Congress expects to receive a supplemental defense budget request from the White House that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry hopes will add back billions in modernization and equipment funding that was cut from the House version of the defense budget before it passed.

President Donald Trump campaigned on rebuilding a robust American military, emphasizing his plans to increase the size of the Navy fleet significantly, grow the Air Force's inventory of aircraft, and boost Marine Corps and Army troop strength by tens and hundreds of thousands, respectively. Thornberry suggested he begin with reaffirming the House's initial defense budget in his request.

"Look at the items that were in the House-passed [National Defense Authorization Act] last year and that ultimately did not make it into the final conference report that was signed into law," he told reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday. "I think my view is they ought to be at the top of the list, looking at some modernization items and so forth."

The proposal, he suggested, should be worth "at least" the extra $18 billion in procurement and infrastructure development that the House had proposed, cutting from the overseas contingency operations war budget to find the money.

That proposal included some $2.3 billion in shipbuilding funds for three additional ships and funded new heavy-lift aircraft for the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, using the services' unfunded priorities "wish" lists to shape spending plans. It also included additional funding for infrastructure and maintenance.

It is rumored, Thornberry said, that Trump's supplemental budget request will include additional funds for border security, a pet cause of the president's, in additional to national security.

For Congress, defense spending challenges are stacking up: Both houses have yet to tackle the fiscal 2017 defense appropriations bill, which will allow the military to spend the money authorized in the budget. And the fiscal 2018 defense budget request is one of the agenda items awaiting a new administration that has yet to install a new head at the Office of Management and Budget.

Thornberry said both the appropriations bill and the markup of the new budget request, expected to have a $640 billion baseline, will be priorities for early in the year.

While challenges including fiscal constraints and the implications of ongoing sequestration budget cuts still loom, Thornberry said lawmakers will find a way to ramp up spending on the military regardless.

"There's no disagreement at all that we need to increase defense spending and need to pay attention to bigger budget picture," he said. "Let me just say, we cannot wait to fix our airplanes until we get all our budget problems solved."

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