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House Republicans make case for Trump defense plan

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., greets Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally at the San Diego Convention Center on Friday, May 27, 2016.

JOHN GASTALDO, SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 19, 2016

WASHINGTON Hours ahead of the final presidential debate, a dozen House Republicans released an open letter of support Wednesday for Donald Trump’s defense plans and claimed that President Barack Obama’s administration has thrust reckless budget cuts on the military.

The lawmakers, who sit on committees for armed services, foreign affairs and homeland security, pointed to cuts to commissaries and years of low troop pay raises. They blame Obama for spending cuts – though Congress approved a decade’s worth of defense spending caps – and said Trump’s plan to dramatically increase the number of troops and ships is “serious and sober” thinking.

The GOP nominee’s plan calls for 74 more Navy ships and 50,000 more soldiers, as well as other major increases. The plan could require at least $650 billion over the coming years and is based on Congress repealing five more years of spending cuts called sequestration, which remains a long shot with a bitterly divided House and Senate.

“Such growth phased within budget reality represents the kind of targeted investment our services need today and is grounded in the kind of serious and sober strategic thinking our country needs in these perilous times by a peace through strength policy,” according to the letter, which included support from 23 retired lawmakers and military leaders.

The open letter was signed by Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee; Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; and members of the Armed Services Committee including Duncan Hunter of California and former SEAL Team Six commander Ryan Zinke of Montana.

Eight retired general officers and four admirals also signed the letter. Missing were the names of the two Republicans who chair the House and Senate armed services committees and are most responsible for crafting defense policy: Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

In addition to a larger Army and Navy, Trump also proposes increasing Marine Corps battalions from 23 to 36, building 87 new Air Force fighter aircraft and developing a state-of-the-art missile defense system.

“I’m going to make our military so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody -- absolutely nobody -- is going to mess with us,” Trump said during a defense policy speech in September.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget did not calculate the cost of such a military buildup, which would likely be hundreds of billions of dollars, but estimated it would ring up an additional $150 billion in deficit spending over the next decades if Congress repealed $450 billion in planned defense cuts.

Trump said he will request that Congress lift the caps, and he also claimed his plan would save $300 billion through tax reform, shrinking the federal workforce and U.S. energy exploration.

“I will ask Congress to fully offset the costs of increased military spending. In the process, we will make government leaner and more responsive to the public,” Trump said in September.

The military has seen declining budgets since historic high U.S. defense spending at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, due partly to caps passed by Congress in 2011 to reduce the deficit. Republicans and Democrats have decried the caps but have been unable to muster the votes to repeal them. Congress is locked in another budget impasse and the federal government is running on a stopgap budget measure that expires in December.

Meanwhile, several years of pressure to reduce the defense budget led Obama to set troop pay raises below private-sector wage growth and Congress to trim military personnel benefits with reforms to the commissary system, retirement and health care.

Signers of the letter Wednesday said the austerity comes as the U.S. faces threats from Russia, China and the Islamic State group, and they blame the spending caps on Obama.

“Over the last eight years, the U.S. military has been faced with reckless cuts by the Obama administration and the dangers incurred by defense sequestration,” the letter said. “Cutting commissary benefits by 30 percent and restricting cost of living raises to 1.6 percent send a telling message to our warriors, many of whom spent 50 percent of their careers in combat zones.”

The letter comes as Trump’s poll numbers have cratered after his statements about groping women and accusations from several about unwanted touching.

Trump was set to face Hillary Clinton on Wednesday in the last presidential debate before the Nov. 8 election.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

 

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