New House Armed Services panel pressed to pass big defense bill
The new Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee pressed members Thursday to commit to passing a massive new spending authorization bill for the Pentagon, saying the panel faces a significant task in defining the military’s missions and finding ways to pay for them.
In the panel’s first public hearing since Democrats seized control of the House in November, Chairman Adam Smith of Washington state said he plans to work across the aisle in the traditionally bipartisan committee, but said the panel faces a string of challenges with a heavy influx of new committee members.
“Whatever we decide the mission to be it is our responsibility to make sure [U.S. military forces] are trained and equipped to do it,” Mr. Smith said. “We need to decide what the missions are and make sure we can fund it.”
The committee must deal with a number of priorities over the next two years, dominated by the need to pass a new defense authorization bill for the Department of Defense.
President Trump is expected to ask for an increase in the military budget for fiscal 2020, after reversing course on plans to slash spending by two percent to $700 billion from the anticipated $733 billion proposal. According to reports, the president plans to ask for a 5 percent increase to $750 billion.
Mr. Smith stressed the importance of passing the annual defense authorization bill, which includes a number of policy choices in addition to setting overall spending guidelines.
He told new members Thursday the committee is the only one in the House to produce a bill for the past 58 years.
“Don’t be drawn in by the 58 years thing,” he said, “it’s not easy but it’s enormously important that we get it done.”
A host of issues will come before the committee this year, including confirmation hearings either for acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan or President Trump’s permanent choice for the Pentagon; overseeing the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria; and organizing and funding the President’s proposed Space Force.
“The worst thing we can do is send someone on a mission and not give them the best equipment,” said Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the previous committee chairman who is now its ranking Republican. “I want to continue to work to make the Pentagon work better.”