Trump Administration Wants NDAA to Balance Spending and Constraint

The Trump Administration expressed support for the House's plan to bolster defense spending in an effort to rebuild readiness, but urged Congress to balance those hikes elsewhere in the budget. Here, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein speaks about USAF operations during an all-call at Shaw AFB, S.C. Air Force photo by A1C Christopher Maldonado.

The Trump Administration expressed support for the spending increases in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Tuesday, but also asked Congress to find more ways of balancing those hikes with fiscal constraint elsewhere in the federal budget in order “to ensure that our military is not rebuilt on the backs of future generations of Americans.”

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is headed by fiscal hawk Mick Mulvaney, released the administration’s policy statement the day before the full House begins debate on the legislation. The statement praises the House bill for “ending the defense sequester, rebuilding our military readiness, and modernizing our force for the future,” but also takes issue with a number of provisions.

First, the administration wants to allow the Pentagon to find savings through a new round of base realignment and closure (BRAC), which the bill currently prohibits. Adding BRAC to the bill would save “an additional $2 billion annually,” which is money the Department of Defense could then “apply to higher priorities, such as readiness and modernization,” according to the statement.

The House’s use of overseas contingency operations (OCO) money to fund base requirements also comes under criticism. “Funding these enduring requirements in OCO,” the statement says, “would complicate the funding stability for associated outyear costs and runs contrary to the purpose of OCO.”

The statement seeks some relief for the Air Force from the House’s requirement that the service maintain at least 25 modified C-5As in flyable storage. That provision “would eliminate the relief provided in the FY 2017 NDAA,” would cost $5.6 billion, and would “take an estimated nine years to complete,” the administration says.

The administration also says the proposed formation of a separate Space Corps “is premature at this time.” The Pentagon is currently conducting a “strategic review” of the organization of national security space operations, and the administration wants to wait for the completion of that review before moving forward with any changes.

On space launch, the administration “strongly objects” to the House’s attempt to limit investment spending in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program to rocket engines only. The House’s prohibition against investment in new launch vehicles “limits domestic competition” and would “increase taxpayer costs by several billions of dollars,” according to the statement.

Trump’s team also objects to a provision seeking to respond to Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in part by developing a program of record for a new missile system that would itself violate the treaty. The statement says the administration is “currently developing an integrated diplomatic, military, and economic response strategy that maximizes pressure on Russia,” and that the House provision “unhelpfully ties the administration to a specific missile system, which would limit potential military response options.”

The House plans to debate amendments to the NDAA on July 12 and 13.