GOP chair: Not up to WH to decide whether to tie border wall to defense funding

GOP chair: Not up to WH to decide whether to tie border wall to defense funding
© Greg Nash

The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee dismissed concerns Thursday that his long-desired defense boost for this fiscal year is in jeopardy because the White House tied the issue to border-wall funding.

“The administration makes a proposal; it’s up to Congress to decide what’s tied to what and how to deal with it,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters Thursday. “I understand there are people who are fonder of some parts than others. I think it is important to get this passed soon and begin this healing process that is so necessary.”

The Trump administration delivered Congress a long-awaited supplemental budget request Thursday for fiscal 2017 that would add $30 billion in defense spending to pay for fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), more equipment across the armed services and other items considered urgently needed.

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But the request also asks for $3 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, including $1.5 billion for President Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Democrats have said they won’t vote for a spending bill that includes funding for the wall. With just 52 seats in the Senate, Republicans would need Democrats to help pass the bill.

The White House request would also put $24.9 billion of the defense dollars in the base budget and $5.1 billion in a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. Putting that much in the base budget would require Congress to change the budget cap law, which Democrats are also likely to balk at.

Congress must pass a bill to fund the government by April 28 or face a government shutdown.

Thornberry flatly dismissed concerns about a government shutdown due to the request, saying simply, “No,” when asked about it.

Thornberry said Congress will also need to decide for itself how to divvy the defense request between base and OCO funding, which is not subject to budget caps.

“I think that’s one of the things that Congress is going to have to sort our way through,” he said. “I’m for whatever we can get done. This is a start, a down payment on the repair efforts that need be made, and I don’t really care what label you put on the money. I care about doing it.”

Thornberry said he was unsure of how Congress will take up the request. He said the easiest thing would be for the Senate to tack it onto the larger fiscal 2017 defense spending bill, which has already passed the House, and then send it back to the House for a second vote.

The release of the fiscal 2017 supplemental request comes the same day the Trump administration released its budget outline for fiscal 2018. That proposal calls for a total of $668 billion in defense spending, broken down in $65 billion for OCO and $603 billion for the base budget.

Thornberry has repeatedly slammed that proposal as too low to pay for the military buildup Trump has called for, which Thornberry supports.

But Thornberry said he was pleased with the $30 billion for defense in the supplemental.

“We cannot wait until we get our budget house in order and everybody can agree on border security to fix our airplanes or to get our ships so they sail or to get our soldiers to where they can deploy,” he later added. “The threats are coming at us too fast to wait on all these other issues.”