WASHINGTON–House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he wants the House to approve Defense Department funding for the rest of the fiscal year ahead of Friday’s deadline for Congress to approve short-term funding to keep the government running for another month.
“The Pentagon cannot plan for the future if it has to keep operating under these short-term spending bills,” Ryan told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The shutdown deadline has put conservatives in the hot seat: If they vote against the short-term funding bill to take a firm stance against the Democrats’ demand that the measure include help for “dreamers” — young people brought into the country illegally as children who now have temporary visas — they may sacrifice the chance to get military spending locked in for the rest of the year.
“The defense budget is being held hostage for [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], which is not a deadline that expires tomorrow,” Ryan said.
Democrats are pushing DACA now because of the leverage the potential shutdown gives them. In effect, they are using the importance of military funding to pressure Republicans into a DACA agreement. President Barack Obama created the program to allow the “dreamers” to get temporary visas and work permits, but President Donald Trump canceled the program, set to expire in March.
Ryan emphasized that he wants a fix for DACA, but DACA’s deadline is down the road. Across-the-board spending cuts for the Defense Department will kick in if the spending plan is not passed by midnight Friday because of spending cap rules set by the Budget and Control Act of 2011.
While the defense budget remains the largest in the world by a substantial margin, both Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress have made “rebuilding” the military a central issue. In the wake of two deadly naval collisions in the Pacific, personnel and infrastructure readiness have come under the microscope, leading to calls for increased funding.
Defense officials have already had to make tough acquisitions decisions under the uncertain spending environment caused by the continuing resolutions, but sequestration would produce a direct threat to national security by sidelining investments into infrastructure modernization, according to Ryan.
“Instead of upgrading our hardware, we have let our equipment age,” Ryan said.
The Department of Defense has requested a budget that is $52 billion above the cap set by the 2011 law.
But according to Barry Posen, director of the MIT Security Studies Program, a “rebuild” of the force would actually be the “long way around to get to a readier force.” Growing the military is often proposed by defense hawks who are often at odds with deficit hawks who support the spending caps.
“Despite huge infusions of money, you can still only get so much from a force of a certain size,” Posen said.
Instead, Posen suggested reducing the “chronic overcommitments” the U.S. makes through the current alliance structure.
While Ryan did acknowledge that fairer burden-sharing among allied nations is necessary, he advocated for strengthening America’s international leadership position. According to Ryan, the U.S. should be the “moral authority” on the international stage.