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Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. (Stars and Stripes file photo)

WASHINGTON – The chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee said Monday he is willing to defy Defense Secretary Ash Carter if it means passing his version of the 2017 defense budget.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, shot back at the Pentagon’s top civilian after Carter strongly objected to the House committee’s plan to pull $18 billion out of Islamic State war funding to instead pay for more troops, equipment and training.

The budget maneuver means war money will run out midway through 2017 and the next president and Congress will be left to strike a new multibillion-dollar funding deal – or risk the ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria as well as Afghanistan.

“What’s objectionable is cutting the military well below levels anyone thinks is wise, denying our troops their pay raise for three years in a row, forcing them to live in crumbling barracks or work in hangars that have literally been condemned,” Thornberry said in a released statement. “I am determined to turn our readiness crisis around, even if I have to do it over the secretary’s objections.”

Thornberry and other defense hawks have settled on using the war funds as a way to bolster the military and get around caps on defense and other federal spending that were negotiated in the fall by Republicans and Democrats. He has said it could cause President Barack Obama to threaten a veto on the annual defense budget again this year.

The defense funding allowed under the caps is not enough and will result in the military “deploying troops who aren’t fully trained, whose equipment is worn out, and who didn’t get the resources they needed back home to be ready to face our enemies overseas,” Thornberry said in response to Carter.

On Monday, Carter lobbed new criticism at the plan, which was passed by the Armed Services Committee last week as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“The proposal is to take money out of the wartime funding account in wartime and that’s objectionable on the face of it,” he told reporters during a trip to Stuttgart, Germany.

Carter said the move also undermines the deal on spending passed by Congress, which the Pentagon hopes will keep the defense budget stable for the next two years by eliminating political fights on Capitol Hill. The deal was reached only after Obama vetoed the defense budget in October because it used a similar tactic to fund daily military operations with money from the war fund.

“One of the reasons I object to what’s going on, and I do object to it, is that it undermines precisely that bipartisan stability,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the Defense Department. “That’s what we set our budget to, and I continue to believe that that is the right thing to do and really the only thing that is appropriate for a government function as vital as defense.”

It was not the first critique from the defense secretary. Last week, he called the budget maneuver “deeply troubling and flawed” and a “gamble” during testimony before the Senate.

The NDAA bill and Thornberry’s funding plan have yet to pass the full House but could come up for a vote in the coming weeks.

The Senate must still decide whether to take up the proposal in its version of the bill. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a strong supporter of more military spending despite the caps placed on federal funding in 2017. Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

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