President Trump inherits an increasingly dangerous world and a military that has been severely damaged in recent years. Funding national security, which used to be a bipartisan priority, has become part of the political gamesmanship that so frustrates the American people. Now the new president and the new Congress have a pivotal opportunity to turn things around, and there is much to do.
President Trump has made rebuilding our military strength one of his top priorities. More money is certainly required, but so is reform of the Pentagon and how it does business.
Over the past two years, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have made defense reform a very high priority. We have put the military retirement and health care systems on a more sustainable footing. We have enacted the most significant organizational changes to the Pentagon since Goldwater-Nichols and have mandated reductions in overhead, in flag officers, and in the number of civil servants. We have passed two rounds of deep acquisition reform designed to get more value for the taxpayer dollar.
Reform will continue to be a major emphasis. We must become more agile in order to keep up with technological advances and with rapidly evolving threats. But reform alone will not repair the damage of the past several years. If the men and women who protect the country are to succeed in the missions they are assigned, we simply must invest more in defense.
From 2010 to 2014, the military budget was cut 21 percent in real terms. Yet, the world did not get 21 percent safer. We asked more of our military than ever, while budget cuts eroded America’s military capability. The Marine Corps is harvesting spare parts from museums to keep planes flying over Iraq. Air Force pilots fly fewer hours than some of our adversaries. The Chief of Staff of the Army has testified that the readiness of the Army is “not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them.”
The last time Congress passed a threat-based defense budget was in 2012. Keep in mind that in 2012 Russia was not bullying its neighbors, ISIS did not exist - nor was it inspiring terrorist attacks in the United States - and China was not building new islands in the South China Sea. Over that same time, we have cut the number of Airmen, Marines, and Soldiers, making deployments more frequent and more dangerous for those who remain. We also have failed to ensure that they receive the training and the modern equipment they need. That is simply immoral.
What is to be done? First, Congress should immediately pass the fiscal year 2017 funding for national defense. The military has been operating on a stopgap measure since October, which hamstrings the Department of Defense and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars. Every day we fail to pass this funding bill is another day that the Department spends inefficiently and that the repair work is delayed.
Second, President Trump has promised to request supplemental funding for national security in his first 100 days in order to get a head start on rebuilding the military. A good blueprint to follow is the House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It supported an increase in the number of troops, additional resources for training, maintenance, and facilities, and new equipment to replace old, outdated systems.
Third, Congress and the President must pass funding for fiscal year 2018 at a level that adequately supports our military and begins to repair the damage inflicted over the last several years. President Obama’s proposal of $584 billion to fund base requirements next year is clearly not enough.
The House Armed Services Committee has been working to identify the major gaps ignored by President Obama’s budget and to fulfill President Trump’s promises to increase the number of troops in the military and begin building a 350 ship Navy. For example, an additional $15 billion is needed to start rebuilding an active Army of 490,000 Soldiers; almost $14 billion is needed to begin repairing our ships, restoring our naval presence around the world, and recovering current readiness shortfalls; and nearly $11 billion is needed to replace worn out equipment and begin making up for military training missed over the last four years. It will take nearly $4 billion to restore dilapidated facilities. We are sharing the details of our analysis with the new team.
The cost to do these things is approximately $640 billion next year. If the Trump Administration and the Congress decide they are willing to take greater risk in some areas, then the numbers can be adjusted. But playing politics with our troops has gone on too long and has done too much damage. Lower funding will have real consequences.
While there are those who want to spend more, we believe that $640 billion is the level that the Department of Defense can responsibly spend next year. As we rush to restore the military, we must be careful not to overload the system.
To protect America’s security, we are going to have to pull America’s military out of the swamp of Washington politics. Making America great again begins with making our military great again. As President Trump begins this daunting task, many of us in Congress will be his strongest allies.
Republican Mac Thornberry represents Texas' 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives where he serves as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.