House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) raised some eyebrows with his recent statement that limiting defense spending to the Fiscal Year 2016 sequester caps increases national insecurity. But this is just practical.
Thornberry, when interviewed by POLITICO, expressed a strong desire to get rid of the sequester spending caps, even if doing so would require tax increases to be paired with cuts to entitlement programs. In light of the findings of the National Defense Panel, which reviewed the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), Chairman Thornberry’s call for a practical response to the defense spending caps should reverberate in his colleagues’ ears at the GOP meetings this week in Hershey, PA.
The NDP wrote as bluntly as it could about its recommendation that the sequester caps on defense spending be eased:
“In fact–and this bears emphasis—we believe that unless recommendations of the kind we make in this Report are adopted, the Armed Forces of the United States will in the near future be at high risk of not being able to accomplish the National Defense Strategy.”
Four years ago the 2010 QDR warned similarly. As the 2014 Review notes, “this  warning was not heeded.”
We expect President Obama’s budget, to be released next month, will contain substantial defense and non-defense discretionary spending well above the sequester cap level. This puts the Republican Congress in a bind. Most analysts agree that defense, given growing global instability, needs funding above the sequester cap levels.
Thornberry, a conservative in good standing with the right of the party, acknowledges reality. He doesn’t want tax increases just for the sake of tax increases. He has looked at what will happen to national security under present law and concluded that the defense of the nation is more important than the irritant of some tax hikes and real entitlement spending reductions.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Domenici-Rivlin budget recommendations of 2010 and 2012 endorse the kind of approach Chairman Thornberry advocates. He is to be congratulated for his courage and his practical advice.