WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry said Wednesday he believes Congress will pass a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown through December, with extra funding for missile defense, readiness and to mitigate troop cuts.
“Plan B is if you’re going to have this dreaded thing, how can you make it less bad,” Thornberry said. “Look at the events of the world, putting more money into missile defense. We need more money in interceptors; we need more money in research. There is no question in my mind we have to have more money in readiness, including maintenance and training.”
Thornberry, speaking at the Defense News Conference as Congress returned from its August recess, speculated lawmakers will pass at least a three-month continuing resolution to fund the government beyond the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
He lamented that Congress has been unable to pass a full-year appropriations bill, knocking the CR — which generally holds funding at the previous year’s level — as inefficient and harmful to military readiness.
Discussions were ongoing about anomalies to the CR “to make the best out of a bad situation.”
“I think a CR is a mistake, and I regret very much we are in a position where it seems a CR is the best option,” Thornberry said.
Though the status quo is budget gridlock and inadequate defense funding, Thornberry argued recent events — North Korean missile tests and a series of fatal military mishaps — “have awakened the American … that they don’t want to see this continue.”
The U.S. government has been shocked North Korea’s recent missile tests and that the American people are feeling anxious about a variety of national security threats.
Thornberry said he was surprised the Trump administration cut missile defense spending from the previous year.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday said the U.S. military will begin adding more launchers to a contentious high-tech U.S. missile defense system in South Korea on Thursday to better cope with threats from North Korea. The deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system has angered not only North Korea but also China and Russia, which see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.
In the wake of a series of military mishaps in the Pacific “that most of us thought would not, could not happen,” Thornberry blamed the “stresses and strains that have been put on the military” and budget dysfunction.
Thornberry pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office report on the demands on the Pacific surface fleet.
“I can’t say that those accidents were inevitable, but we had warning lights we were asking too much of our folks and our equipment,” he said. “The truth is all of our services are facing similar problems.”
A joint hearing of the House readiness and seapower subcommittees on Sept. 7 will probe “underlying problems” with readiness associated with the collisions of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain two months apart over the summer. The incidents left dead 10 sailors from the McCain and seven from the Fitzgerald.
Even before the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions, there were two incidents involving the Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet, including a grounding and oil spill in Tokyo Bay and a collision with a Korean fishing boat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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.