By Kristina Wong
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Friday he welcomed the president’s request for $5.6 billion for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but urged him to reconsider his strategy.
McKeon said he would give the new request “fair consideration,” but will likely press Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey for more details during a hearing next Thursday.
McKeon said that he wanted to hear the president “clearly explain how this additional funding supports a new direction”, adding that “such clarity is more likely to find swift Congressional approval.”
During a hearing in September, members pressed Hagel for specifics on how the administration would spend $5 billion requested for a counterterrorism partnership fund and $500 million for the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels. But particulars were scant at the time.
McKeon noted that in May, the House passed a 2015 defense policy bill that included $79.4 billion for war funding, versus the $58.6 billion the administration has maintained it will need.
“This funding level matches levels envisioned by the House budget,” McKeon said of the $79.4 billion sum.
The White House had hoped to reduce the amount of war funding in 2015, which some critics consider a “slush fund” account for defense spending.
Defense budget expert William Hartung, director of the Center for International Policy’s arms and security project said, “there is no need for a new funding request.”
“The Pentagon already has more than enough money to carry out any of the missions currently contemplated in Iraq and Syria,” Hartung added.
The administration’s latest request, of $5.6 billion, would be added to the $58.6 billion. The defense policy bill is pending in the Senate. The funding will likely be debated when Congress returns on Nov. 12, along with an authorization of military force.