The Defense Department and Congress will need to work more collaboratively to agree on cost-cutting reforms if the nation is going to be able to sustain an adequate military into the future, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday.
“Six hundred and 10 billion dollars is not a small amount of money,” Smith said, reported CQ Roll Call. “If we can’t spend $610 billion to provide for the national security of the United States, then we just aren’t any good at spending money.”
Smith’s remarks came as the House and Senate are about to form a conference committee to hash out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill. One of the key disputes lawmakers will need to settle is funding.
“It would have been nice if the agreement that we reached eight, nine months ago now, we just stuck to,” Smith said in reference to last October’s budget deal which extended the caps on defense and non-defense spending.
The House bill uses $18 billion from the department’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account to fund base budget items not requested by the Obama administration. The Senate version does not rely on the OCO account, but Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) has repeatedly said the military needs more funding to restore shortfalls in readiness.
“That’s the only real show stopper,” Smith said about the funding differences between the competing bills, reported the Hill. “We’ll have to work closely with the White House on what some of their other veto concerns are, but I feel very confident that we can get the bill this year.”
Conferees also will need to reach a compromise on provisions imposing organizational and acquisition reform on the Pentagon bureaucracy, areas in which the Senate version goes further than the House version.
“I am intrigued by the possibility of making changes that move in this direction,” Smith said. “Now does McCain have the exact right formula? Is the White House completely wrong in their criticism? No, and no. But I think we have to move in that direction.”
Staff of the two Armed Services committees will work through many of the measures’ lower profile differences throughout July and August when Congress is on recess.