DefenseOne's Marcus Weisgerber reports from the Reagan National Defense Forum POSTEX that the party probably started a bit too early thinking we were in for a lot more defense spending;
With yet another government shutdown looming and Trump and Republican lawmakers focused on a tax bill that will increase the federal deficit by an estimated $1.5 trillion over the next decade, optimism for large defense-spending increases is starting to wane, attendees here said.Jerry Hendrix was there too, and in addition to a nice summary of events and speakers, gives a little warning;
Last year, the defense hawks came here bullish that a Republican president and GOP-controlled Congress would repeal federal spending caps and begin the massive military buildup promised by Trump. Now one year later, that optimism has subsided as the same hurdles that blocked the repeal of budget caps remain. And no one has a solution.
“In order to get to that number, Congress has to vote to change the Budget Control Act,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said at forum. “If we were so hell-bent to do that, if this was such a priority, why are we sitting here in December and we haven’t done it? We haven’t done it because there is this massive inconsistency in the way we look at the budget.”
Americans want a balanced budget, don’t want their taxes to decrease and no one wants to cut popular programs, Smith said. “That cannot be done,” the congressman bluntly said. “It is mathematically impossible, but that is what the public expects.”
While Republicans and Democrats widely support increasing defense spending, the same gridlock in Congress that has led to seemingly annual continuing resolutions and even a government shutdown remain. Republicans want to offset defense increases with cuts to social programs. If defense gets a plus-up, Democrats want equal increases to those domestic programs.
“If there’s not growth in the budget, where are we going to invest it and get a reasonable return?” Strianese said. “That’s why I would advocate more for a certain level of growth and stability in the defense budget.”
One thing hasn’t changed since last year, or the previous one: the cries for budgetary help from top officials at the Pentagon:
“I don’t have the amount of funds that I need for the requirements that are being heaped on me,” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said. “I need to increase my capabilities in every single aspect where I do business.”
Despite a broad consensus among attendees, it was clear that internal disputes with “fiscal hawks” who viewed rising deficits as significant national-security threats in and of themselves were going to block any Republican attempts to do away with the Budget Control Act in the near future. There was a palpable sense of frustration in the room, especially among the Republican members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. Despite having a Republican president who wants a larger military, and majorities in the House and the Senate, there was no real sense of energy or forward movement on strengthening the nation’s defense. Force readiness was the other bogeyman in the room, with speakers from McMaster to former Obama appointee Kathleen Hicks highlighting the need to invest in readiness and modernization.
Readiness and modernization, the latter in the form of investments in new “offsetting” capabilities, seem to represent the major hurdles that the Department of Defense needs to clear before it can begin to grow the force. Both seem to suggest false choices, as no real dollar amount has been advanced to answer the question of how much it would cost to achieve high “readiness,” and investments in modernization can coexist with investments in growing the force by following a traditional acquisition strategy consisting of a “high-low” mix. The desire by some to pursue only those high-end capabilities that are viewed as essential to winning the next great-power war carries with it the potential to diminish the day-to-day force that is critical to preserving the peace.2018 is going to be an election year where the Democrats see an opening back to power on at least one side of the legislative branch. That does not bode well for a resolution to defense funding problems years in the making.
Winter is coming after a false spring.
If you are still on the party bus thinking the executive branch might be able to push things in a direction you'd prefer, Bryan McGrath is having none of it. Check out his bit as well.
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