As the annual defense budget makes its way through the budgeting process, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D-WA) emphasized two things during an event as CSIS on Monday: 1) “an absolute commitment to getting it done;” and 2) a bipartisanship legislative process.
“It is really important that we pass this bill and implement the policy that’s necessary to help move forward the Department of Defense at a very basic level,” Smith said. “And the importance of that being bipartisan cannot be overstated … We are not trying to score political points with this bill.”
Having said that, Smith was less gracious in his comments directed toward President Trump and the President’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
In the President’s budget, the Trump Administration allocated $718 billion to the Department of Defense—$544 billion to the base defense budget, $165 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, and $9 billion in an emergency account. Smith said that this proposal essentially skirted the limitations of the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which capped defense spending at around $570 billion to the ire of Pentagon supporters since its passing, by throwing money into the (off-budgetr) OCO account that really didn’t belong there in order to avoid technically raising the BCA budget caps and provoking criticism.
Smith joked that the “most promising pathway” to achieving a deal on the budget caps was Mulvaney retiring.
“I don’t have an enormous amount of faith that [Mulvaney] … understands the importance of finding a way out of [the BCA caps] so that we don’t screw up a good chunk of the federal government, including the Department of Defense,” Smith said.
Most of the debate around the Pentagon’s budget has centered around two numbers—$750 billion, the amount President Trump requested, and $733 billion, which is what the HASC’s first markup allocates.
Smith said that the $733 billion was “an informed number” based on the testimony earlier this year by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, while the $750 billion “was, well, here’s another $17 billion, where would you like to spend it?”
“I worry that no matter what the amount is,” Smith said, “there’s always going to be a group of people who say that ought to be more.”
One area Smith would like to see progress is on future technology, to include artificial intelligence, hypersonics, and cyber.
“I want to see more out of the Pentagon, not just about how they’re going to invest in these technologies, but towards what?” Smith questioned “What are they hoping to use these technologies for? How do they help them accomplish their goals? What’s the application of the technology, instead of just like, ‘Hey, this would be neat.’”
Smith also said he was critical of what he called the “industrial base argument” that some are using to push for the acquisition of more CH-47 helicopters.
“I think the word when you’re trying to say lie, but you don’t want to say it publicly is disingenuous,” Smith said. “[Defense contractors] will exaggerate the industrial base argument … So I don’t necessarily believe defense companies, when they say, ‘Oh, you gotta buy more these are will shut it down.’ I think they kind of want the money.”
Regardless, Smith said, his approach will continue to be as bipartisan as possible.
“We’re trying to produce the best possible product. And as such, the the bill that we’ve introduced, the subcommittee marks and the four committee mark, reflect as many priorities that came from minority party members as majority party members,” Smith said. “We want to work together to produce this product, which is not to say that we won’t have differences.”