Republicans swept to a massive win in November –three months ago– and the most urgent issues facing the country have to do with national security, specifically military preparedness.
To begin to fix the nation’s defense requires a robust hike in defense spending directed primarily towards weaponry and retention of the best of the all-volunteer force. The Navy especially needs a crash program to get to its minimum necessary strength, and the Marine Corps needs to be lifted back to its war-fighting preparedness levels of the middle of the last decade.
The president put forth one budget in his generally absurdist budget last week, and its recommendations for Defense provide a baseline for the GOP Congress. Here’s how analysts working for Forbes described the defense budget:
The budget proposes an increase in the overall defense budget by about 4% to $585.2 billion in fiscal 2016, from $560.3 billion in the current fiscal year. However, the base defense budget in this overall budget has been proposed to grow at a much higher rate, as the allocation for overseas contingency operations has been proposed to decline to $50.9 billion, from $64.2 billion. The decline in OCO was expected, as troops continue to withdraw from Afghanistan. After accounting for this decline in OCO, the base defense budget, which includes military personnel and procurement costs, has been proposed to grow by a whopping $38 billion or 7.7% in the fiscal year 2016. A further breakdown of various items in the base defense budget shows that the military personnel budget is expected to rise by a modest 2%. So the real jump in the proposed base defense budget is being driven by weapons procurement, which has been proposed to grow by over 14%.
The GOP Congress is going to have to do more than this of course, because most Republicans want the American forces in Afghanistan maintained at around 10,000 troops, and the GOP will also support a far more robust American component in the anti-ISIS coalition in and around Baghdad and neighboring countries. The GOP knows better to than to skimp on military pay and benefits again and most of its members have promised to reverse the cut to military benefits jammed through at the end of 2014. Procurement —especially of the surface combatant ships necessary to support a fleet of at least 11 carrier groups— has to accelerate and almost certainly a budget line has to be created now for the replacement of the 14 Ohio-class SSBNs, which are the backbone of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.
To get to a real Department of Defense budget requires an appropriations bill from the House Committee on Appropriations –Chairman Hal Rogers– which must first come out of the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations, the GOP members of which are:
Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)
Kay Granger (R-TX)
Ander Crenshaw (R-FL)
Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Tom Cole (R-OK)
Steve Womack (R-AR)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
John Carter (R-TX)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Tom Graves (R-GA)
In the Senate, the Chair of Senate Appropriations is Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and the Republican members of the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations are:
Thad Cochran, Subcommittee Chair
Mitch McConnell Kentucky
Richard C. Shelby Alabama
Lamar Alexander Tennessee
Susan Collins Maine
Lisa Murkowski Alaska
Lindsey Graham South Carolina
Roy Blunt Missouri
Steve Daines Montana
Jerry Moran Kansas
The theoretical timetable for the budget process is here, but dysfunction in D.C. brought about by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have screwed this process up badly year after year, and sequestration has brought about a genuine crisis. House Budget Chair Tom Price (R-GA) and Senate Budget Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY) can break this recent history of dysfunction by moving rapidly to get a budget through both chambers –the president does not need to sign the Congressional budget resolution– and that agreement will set the cap for the DoD spending which the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on Defense must then work within to get an appropriations bill to the president. (That cap really has to anticipate the need for the SSBN replacement spending.) All along the way the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are providing authorization for various programs and policies which blend into this process, but the immediate need is not for a ballet of egos and authorities to be perfectly executed, but for the DoD to get the funds its needs to begin the rebuild.
In fact, the GOP House and Senate leadership, the Budget chairmen and their committees, the Appropriations Defense Subcommittees and their full committee chairmen, and the Armed Services chairmen and their committees can agree on the budget as soon as they want and begin crafting the Defense appropriations bill in detail now so that upon passage of the Budget resolution it is ready to move quickly through the chambers and to the president’s desk.
Seriousness on the most serious subject is long overdue in D.C. Each of these key members have to get to the pressing work of staving off further devastating cuts in America’s military and must do so quickly. The would-be nominees of the GOP in 2016 have to master these details and push and pull these key members along. Staffs have to be told this is not a “business-as-usual-year” and Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell have to work even more overtime to get military back on a steady, sane path to a fully armed military staffed by the best professional force in history. That is job number one of the new Congress. A lot of headlines obscure this fact, but the news of the past week underscores it. Clarity from the leadership onthis priority and a timetable would be a wonderful thing to hear in the next couple of weeks.