BY DAVID ALEXANDER
(Reuters) – Calling the Pentagon “penny wise and pound foolish,” the new Republican head of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday rejected plans to retire planes and ships because of tight budgets but offered no solution to ease the military’s money woes.
Representative Mac Thornberry sounded a defiant note in his first big speech since becoming chairman of the House of Representatives panel, saying people did not understand the “proper role” of Congress in national defense and suggesting President Barack Obama fell short in his constitutional duties.
“Some people expect the lawmakers to just cut the check and don’t ask too many questions,” he said in remarks to the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank.
“But Congress should not give any president a blank check and Congress should not be a rubber stamp, as the branch of government most responsible for the character and contours of our military,” Thornberry said.
His comments came as the Pentagon is struggling to cut about $1 trillion in projected spending from its budget over a decade as required by a 2011 law. The law set caps on defense spending for each year and imposes automatic, across-the-board reductions if lawmakers approve spending levels above the lid.
Despite the spending limits, the White House and Pentagon have regularly asked for additional funding and are expected to do so again for the 2016 budget, due to be unveiled next month.
Last year’s budget projected $535 billion in defense spending in 2016, which would be about $36 billion above the cap, possibly triggering another round of across-the-board reductions.
To ensure adequate funding for training, maintenance and investment in new weapons, the Pentagon last year proposed a series of tough cuts, including retiring the popular A-10 close air support aircraft and delaying the mid-life overhaul of an aircraft carrier with a view to retiring it early.
Congress’s decision to reject those and other cuts forces the Pentagon to reduce spending elsewhere to offset the cost of required programs. Thornberry defended the action, saying, “Sometimes the Pentagon is penny wise and pound foolish.”
While rejecting retiring weapons systems to save money, Thornberry said the squeeze on Pentagon spending “has to be fixed.”
“To be strong, we’ve got to stop the slide in defense budgets that has reduced our base defense spending 21 percent since 2010,” he said.
But he said nobody “has a magic formula to do that.”