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GOP lawmaker: Ignore $174 billion war fund controversy and focus on defense budget negotiation

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, then-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), questions senior military leaders during a HASC hearing on Capitol Hill, March 7, 2017. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

A key House Armed Services Committee member said Tuesday that Congress could reach a deal on the proposed defense budget despite some predictions the spending plan won’t get required lawmaker approval.

Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the ranking Republican on the House committee, said he’s telling colleagues to ignore the controversial White House move to ask for a massive war fund and instead focus on the much-needed topline figure for the military.

President Donald Trump’s administration is requesting $750 billion for national security, which includes a $174 billion request for a war account that’s been referred to by top military experts as a “slush fund.”

“I would say this is not the Pentagon’s idea,” Thornberry said Tuesday during a roundtable discussion with reporters on Capitol Hill. “Using this method, just everybody dismisses it and makes the administration or at least [the White House’s Office of Management and Budget] less relevant.”

Thornberry’s comments come on the same day that the Pentagon issued its service budgets. Overall, Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1, would boost the current spending by about 3 percent, which is necessary, Thornberry said.

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However, the requested $174 billion for the war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO, is an effort to avoid budget caps requiring defense spending to be less than $576 billion in the next fiscal year.

It’s a move that leaders in the Democrat-controlled House have already said is a nonstarter.

“Congress will never agree to this giant OCO increase on its own,” Thornberry said. “I have to confess the reason for doing it that way is not clear.”

Still, some Republicans such as Thornberry have cheered the overall defense budget amount. For his part, Thornberry is telling colleagues to ignore the construction of the request as far as what’s in OCO and what’s not.

He said lawmakers need to reach a two-year deal to lift defense spending limits, as dictated by the Budget Control Act, which is in effect for two more fiscal years.

“The topline is a good number,” Thornberry said. “Let’s get a negotiation going right now to last through the last two years of the Budget Control Act …and get it done so we can all move forward.”

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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