In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, President Donald Trump said, “it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense. Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been.”
This pronouncement was evidently in response to the Senate’s vote to approve its versionof the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. We will leave it to the White House chief of staff and the director of the office of management and budget to explain to the president that authorization bill amounts do not equate to the actual spending of money. I am sure the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee would like to chime in on that too.
Leaving that misperception aside, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee immediately pounced on the president’s statement: “A majority of Republicans, Democrats, and now the President of the United States agree that after six years of neglect, America’s military needs a substantial investment to restore its strength and protect the nation.”
That’s one way to look at it. But authorizing roughly $695 billion for the Pentagon, with roughly $65 billion of that in the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund, is gambling with America’s fiscal future. And that’s a gamble I’m not willing to take – nor should anyone concerned about our long-term security. Throwing money at the Pentagon, prior to the formation of a new National Military Strategy of the United States, is at best imprudent and at worst fiscal malpractice.
So I was pleased to see the reaction of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Corker voted against final passage of the Pentagon policy bill earlier this week. He released this statement to explain that vote:
“We are deeply indebted to our brave men and women in uniform for their service to our country, and I am incredibly grateful for the work they do to defend our nation from a variety of threats every day. Unfortunately, this legislation not only blows the budget caps by nearly $83 billion but also exceeds the president’s funding request by more than $32 billion and continues the abuse of OCO as a budget gimmick. While I support investing the appropriate resources to ensure our troops have the tools they need, we cannot continue to do things the same way and deepen the fiscal crisis jeopardizing our national security. The inability to get our fiscal house in order is the greatest threat to our country, and I will continue fighting for an agreement that responsibly funds our military without adding to our massive deficits.”
This is a principled approach to an issue that has become the new third rail of federal spending. It is heartening to see a senior Republican take this position. Too often, desire for fiscal restraint in the context of Pentagon spending is falsely associated with being weak on defense. Hopefully, Corker’s statement is the beginning of a trend toward greater common sense in consideration of Pentagon spending and not an outlier.