Budget fight imperils Trump’s military spending demands

In this Feb. 3, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump waves as he walks from Marine One to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump was heading to Florida to spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago.
In this Feb. 3, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump waves as he walks from Marine One to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump was heading to Florida to spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago. AP

One of President Donald Trump’s biggest goals this year is a huge boost in military funding. He’ll probably get more funding when Congress votes later this week on a spending plan, but nowhere near what he’s seeking.

Congressional negotiators reportedly agreed Sunday night to provide about half the additional funding he wants for military operations. The defense money is part of a broader pact that would keep the government running beyond Friday, when funds for most of the government will run out.

Congress must approve a spending plan by then that keeps the government running through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. To get anything passed, Republicans, who control both chambers, will need Democratic support, and Democrats are reluctant to give Trump what he wants.

The White House last month asked Congress for funding that would go toward “urgent war-fighting readiness needs,” to address shortfalls for troops’ training, equipment, munitions and modernization, according to Trump’s letter earlier this year to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. That amount includes $13.5 billion to build and modernize additional Army Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, F-35 and F/A-18 fighter jets, tactical missiles and unmanned aircraft.

The Sunday night agreement will reportedly provide Trump with $12.5 billion. He had sought a total of $30 billion.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., praised the agreement as “a good agreement for the American people,” saying it “takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table.”

He was pleased it does not specifically include money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, though it does increase funding for border security.

The lower military funding level was anticipated, and many Republicans and Pentagon officials were not pleased.

“There is no enemy on the planet than can do more damage to the United States Air Force than us not getting a budget,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said at a defense conference in February, calling lawmakers’ failure to pass a budget “professional malpractice.”

Many lawmakers were also unhappy with the lower military spending level.

“I am concerned where we are going with the military,” said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, who has voted against continuing resolutions, as such short-term budget measures are called, in the past. “I represent Fort Hood, and we’ll see what is the long-term plan for the military. I want to get them out of sequestration and get them on the budget and that sort of thing.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has also been critical. “Our uniformed military leaders have testified that years of budget cuts have placed the lives of military service members at greater risk,” he said.

Republicans have complained about a series of automatic spending cuts that affects defense and non-defense spending equally for years, and Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis lamented the cuts during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in March.

“The last six years of sequester’s effects, budget cuts and repeated continuing resolutions have damaged our readiness to a degree that will take time to recover,” Mattis said.

But eliminating the defense spending caps is a nearly impossible task for Congress this year, said Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It would seem to me that there’s no plausible deal that completely gets rid of caps,” Kogan said.

Williams, a fiscal conservative, has voted against the stopgap spending measures in the past because they increase budget deficits.

Stopgaps, he said, “are not the way to do business.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said Friday that Democrats were unlikely to support Trump’s budget priorities in a 2017 bill because they had not been debated in Congress.

“I think that’s going to be the discussion, is how much are we trying to put in here that really isn’t about this budget but is actually about the next budget,” she said.

Trump released his budget proposal for 2018 in March and it boots military spending by an additional $54 billion, a nearly 10 percent increase over former President Barack Obama’s budget for the 2017 fiscal year, by cutting roughly the same amount from non-defense programs.

“It’s dead on arrival. It’s simply not going to happen,” said Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“What has been proposed is absolutely and completely unrealistic,” he said. “The amount in (Trump’s) request is perfectly reasonable; it’s not much more than what Obama proposed. What is unrealistic is that it’s paid for by the non-defense budget.”

Elizabeth Koh contributed to this article.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen