Trump Calls for End to 'Dangerous' Budget Caps on Defense Spending

Trump demanded long-term budget deal to ensure U.S. maintains its military edge

President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan look on
President Donald Trump delivers State of the Union address, Jan. 30, 2018 / Getty
January 30, 2018

President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged lawmakers to repeal congressionally-mandated budget caps on defense spending, calling the law "dangerous" to the U.S. military.

In his first State of the Union address to Congress, Trump demanded a long-term budget deal to ensure the United States maintains its military edge over adversaries, which he said must include the maintenance and modernization of the country's nuclear arsenal.

"Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values," Trump said. "In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense."

Lawmakers in December passed a defense authorization bill that would allocate $700 billion to the Pentagon for fiscal year 2018, but that legislation only laid out spending levels. Congress must pass a separate measure to actually appropriate the funds, which it has so far failed to do.

The budget plan exceeds congressionally-mandated budget caps by roughly $85 billion, meaning Republicans will need to team with Democrats to raise spending limits to clear the path for a yearlong budget that includes the proposed increases to defense spending.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier this month lawmakers are involved in "good-faith negotiations" to raise the budget caps, but congressional gridlock has delayed efforts.

The Budget Control Act was enacted as part of the 2011 sequester in an attempt to control spending and reduce the debt. The military's top brass has warned Congress for years against the law's damaging impact on force readiness and modernization.

The Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump will request $716 billion in defense spending in his 2019 budget proposal to be released next month, marking a 7 percent increase over the dollar amount planned in this year’s budget.

The $716 billion would cover the Pentagon’s annual base budget as well as the ongoing operations in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Congress has yet to pass the 2018 budget due to partisan wrangling over proposed cuts to domestic programs.

Lacking a yearlong budget, defense spending is locked into the levels appropriated in 2017, which totaled roughly $634 billion. Trump’s proposed budget would represent a 13 percent increase over the 2017 figure, according to the Post.

The expected budget request falls in line with calls by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to build up U.S. forces in the face of emerging military powers such as Russia and China. In a new Pentagon strategy released earlier this month, Mattis said retooling the military to adapt to evolving security challenges will require increased and sustained investment.

Mattis blamed mandatory spending caps and Congress’s inability to pass a budget for contributing to the erosion of the U.S. military’s competitive edge "in every domain of warfare." Lawmakers last week voted to end a three-day government shutdown after failing to pass a budget, forcing the military to operate under the fourth temporary funding bill of fiscal year 2018.

Congress now has until Feb. 8 to strike a spending deal, though a long-term plan is looking increasingly unlikely amid unresolved divisions over immigration.