House Defense Chairman Predicts Congress Will Raise Spending Cap

Congress probably will give the U.S. military some relief from spending caps as the nation faces threats from nuclear weapons to cyberterrorism, said Representative Mac Thornberry, the new House Armed Services Committee chairman.

“On both sides of the aisle, there’s widespread agreement that the resources going to the Pentagon are not enough to meet that wide array of threats,” the Texas Republican said today in an interview.

“If you got Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate who want to do that, I think we will,” he said. “I trust that the president, given all that the country is facing, will want to do that too.”

A law passed in 2011 set annual spending caps through fiscal year 2021. Defense spending is capped at $523 billion in fiscal 2016, $1.75 billion more than the current year; the cap for nondefense funding is about $60 million less.

If Congress doesn’t stay within those caps -- or agree to higher ones -- the law requires an automatic reduction known as sequestration.

While lawmakers in both parties favor easing the spending restrictions for defense, many Democrats oppose doing so if it means cutting more deeply in domestic programs.

Sequestration will one of the topics of discussion later this week when House and Senate Republicans gather privately in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Thornberry said.

The Defense Department has been asking lawmakers for help constraining costs, including what it spends on health-care benefits as one way to get a grip on spending.

Health Costs

Congress agreed in 2014 to raise the cost of pharmacy co-payments after long deliberations, and Thornberry said he’s willing to look at ways to stem health costs in the future.

“We do have to control health-care costs in our military and our society,” he said.

Congress and the Defense Department have to strike a balance between keeping the promises to those who have served in the military and making sure that the Pentagon can recruit and retain “top quality people,” he said.

“To me it’s not just about saving money, it’s not even primarily about saving money, it’s about should we update the pay and benefits structure for today’s work place,” he said.

A blue-ribbon commission on military compensation and retirement is approaching the end of a two-year review and may soon release its proposals.

Cyberterrorism’s Threat

Thornberry, who leads the House’s largest committee, said his top priority as chairman will be to give the U.S. military the tools it needs to be agile and well-prepared.

“We face everything from major nuclear powers that continue to improve their nuclear weapons to resurgent newly aggressive major powers like Russia and China to all the shades of terrorism to nuclear proliferation to diseases to cyber,” Thornberry said. ‘

Cyberspace is a “new domain of warfare,” he said, where the technology has “advanced further and faster than our policies and laws,” he said.

Sharing information with the private sector “is a good step forward,” he said.

Yesterday, The Twitter and YouTube accounts of the U.S. Central Command were compromised in a hacking attack that the Pentagon dismissed as a prank.

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