Members of Congress are urging President Trump to begin rebuilding the U.S. military, starting with a 2018 defense budget of at least $640 billion, most of which would go to buying more aircraft, ships, and other hardware.
That ambitious number would be about $50 billion above the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which enacted the process called sequestration to enforce the limits.
But House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain are ready to lead fights to eliminate the BCA caps so they can pay for the hardware, the additional personnel and the maintenance needed to restore a defense they say has been badly weakened by six years of reduced spending.
Thornberry and McCain's plan calls for $640 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2018, a $54 billion increase.
At a media briefing Feb. 6, 2017, to preview the upcoming congressional session, Thornberry (R-Texas) first urged Congress to pass an appropriations bill to cover the six remaining months of the 2017 fiscal year "as soon as possible."
The federal government currently is being funded under a continuing resolution that runs until April 28 and limits most spending to the prior year levels.
"There's no reason in the world to wait until April," Thornberry said.
The HASC chairman then urged Trump to send the supplemental funding bill he has promised to increase defense spending this year. "The sooner the better," he said.
When asked what the supplemental should cover, Thornberry said it should start with "the things that were in the House-passed NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) that were not in the final bill. I think they should be at the top of the list."
The NDAA cut $18 billion that the House wanted to add, which would have gone mainly to increased weapons.
The U.S. Air Force F/A-18F has an estimated flyaway cost of $98.3 million. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin
The deleted add-ons included 14 additional F/A-18 Super Hornets, another Littoral Combat Ship, and an extra LPD-17 amphibious warship for the Navy, plus 11 more F-35s split among the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. It also would have bought the Army additional AH-64 attack helicopters and UH-60 utility choppers.
The deleted funds also would have allowed the services to hire even more troops than the 16,000 Army soldiers and the 3,000 additional Marines allowed by the final bill.
Funding the current fiscal year would clear the way for Congress to work on a fiscal 2018 budget, which should include an even bigger increase in defense spending, Thornberry said.
Asked what amount he wanted, Thornberry said, "Our view is about a $640 billion base budget to meet the increased end strength, the increased number of ships, to turn the readiness around, and deal with a lot of those problems."
McCain (R-Arizona) used that same number in his opening statement at a Jan. 24 hearing of his committee.
"We have to invest in the modern capabilities necessary for the new realities of deterring conflict," he said.
"We also have to regain capacity for our military. It does not have enough ships, aircraft, vehicles, munitions, equipment, and personnel to perform its current missions at acceptable levels of risk."
"It will not be cheap," McCain added. "In my estimate, our military requires a base defense budget for fiscal year 2018, excluding current war costs, of $640 billion."
Both of the chairmen insisted the BCA caps must be removed, but only for defense, not for the domestic programs that also are limited.