WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Committee leaders are urging congressional budget writers to stick to Congress’ two-year spending deal on defense and provide the Pentagon with timely funding.

The Trump administration’s 2019 budget request seeks $716 for national defense, which complies with the deal to lift budget caps by $85 billion for defense and $68 billion for non-defense needs. The first half of the deal was signed into law last week.

On Thursday, committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., published their March 9 “views and estimates” letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack, R-Ark.

The letter was released as the Armed Services Committee announced it will begin consideration of the fiscal 2019 defense policy bill with its full committee markup set for May 9. The lawmakers emphasized their intent to focus on “restoring readiness shortfalls.”

“Supporting the funding levels for current and future requirements will be necessary to recover readiness shortfalls, and this support should be specifically identified in the upcoming budget resolution,” they wrote.

Smith differed from the joint letter in a solo letter that bemoaned fiscal instability’s impact on every federal department and agency and made an oblique reference to GOP reluctance to fund non-defense.

President Donald Trump and hard-line conservatives have expressed misgivings over the two-year bipartisan budget agreement (BBA) enacted last February. Trump’s subsequent 2019 plan called for appropriating $57 billion less than the revised non-defense cap.

“[T]he budget resolution must deviate from the President’s budget request and support BBA funding levels for FY 2019 for both the defense and non-defense categories of the discretionary budget,” Smith wrote. “The BBA increase to the defense budget is justifiable in light of national security challenges, but enabling the achievement of defense priorities alone is insufficient.”

Citing testimony from military leaders, the joint letter outlined gaps across aviation, ground and naval forces, as well as unmet needs for munitions, facilities maintenance and space capabilities.

Thornberry and Smith’s letter together cited Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ testimony that the effects of budget caps were worsened by multiple stopgap funding patches.

“Congress will need to follow the fiscal cycle through to conclusion by properly providing appropriations in a timely manner for the Department to execute these funds effectively,” they said.

They also made a pitch for more stable budgeting beyond 2019.

“While changes in the security environment must always be considered when formulating budgets, providing the [Defense] Department and the defense industrial base with a reliable budget that extends into the out-years will enable more cost effective decision-making,” they wrote.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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