WASHINGTON — Will the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee vote for another temporary spending measure to avert a government shutdown? He’s playing his cards close to his vest.
With just four days for the White House and congressional leaders to reach a new budget deal, HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas declined to commit his help to pass the stopgap continuing resolution that House GOP leaders say they will likely need.
Thornberry, who is influential with the bloc of Republicans on his committee, voted in favor of the CR passed last month but would not say Tuesday whether he supports one.
"Personally, I'd do just about anything to fix this problem, including vote for things that I might not support otherwise, but I am increasingly disturbed that support for our military is being tied to some other issue, some other agenda," Thornberry said at a reporters’ breakfast on Tuesday.
As the fight over immigration reform entangled negotiations on a defense budget and to avert a government shutdown, Thornberry accused Democrats caring more about immigrants than the military.
He said 2018 spending should be decoupled from Democrats’ insistence on a deal with President Donald Trump to extend the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. He said tying military spending to any other issue is “absolutely wrong.”
“Every day under a CR does damage to the military,” he said. “It’s disturbing to see that people would be willing to see that damage continue for some other [issue.]”
Without a deal in hand, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said Congress will have to pass a fourth CR, likely into February, so negotiations can progress.
It’s unclear whether House Republicans can find the 218 votes needed to pass such a measure — or whether Senate Republicans can find 60 votes.
Some hawkish Republicans, who have railed against CRs as damaging to military readiness have threatened to vote against another temporary spending measure or also declined to commit.
Thornberry on Jan. 11 said he had not discussed with the Pentagon the exceptions, or “anomalies” to a new CR, it might request — or whether their inclusion would win his vote. Last month’s CR included $4.7 billion for emergency missile defense and ship repair needs.
“One of the points I’ve tried to make is there is no number of ‘anomalies’ that can fix the damage a CR causes,” Thornberry said. “The idea that you can give us a little of this and a little of that and the CR wouldn’t be so bad, is blatantly not true.”
Thornberry said he believes lawmakers and the White House can quickly reach deals on DACA and easing caps for 2018 spending. But he questioned whether Democrats want that.
“Because there are Democrats who know that many of us are concerned about the damage a CR does every day, they are trying to use our concerns about the military to promote their issues,” Thornberry said. “These political games are on the backs of men and women risking their lives.”
Thornberry’s comments echoed Trump, who said that Democrats “don’t want” to make a deal.
“Statement by me last night in Florida: ‘Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal. They talk about DACA, but they don’t want to help..We are ready, willing and able to make a deal but they don’t want to. They don’t want security at the border, they don’t want to stop drugs, they want to take money away from our military which we cannot do,’” Trump tweeted, quoting his comments made Jan. 14 to reporters at his resort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.