Pentagon set to ask Congress for $6 billion in additional funds
The Pentagon will request about $6 billion more for the current fiscal year to pay for troop increases in Iraq, a slower draw-down of troops from Afghanistan and more intense air operations, according to Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord.
The "budget amendment" also will respond to an urgent request from field commanders for additional systems to counter Islamic State drones, McCord said in an interview. "You start to see these in play now in the fight," he said.
Defense Department officials hope the White House approves submitting the proposal to Congress shortly after the Nov. 8 election, McCord said, "hopefully in time to inform an omnibus funding bill" to succeed a stopgap spending measure set to expire in early December. Some conservative lawmakers are lobbying for extending stopgap funding into next year.
"We feel like we are locked and loaded as to what's in" the proposed $6 billion request, McCord said. As much as $3 billion will be sought to retain as many as 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through next year instead of reducing levels to 5,500 as was planned previously. About 9,800 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan now.
Additional funds will be sought to pay for the three gradual increases in U.S. military trainers and advisers in Iraq to 4,985 today, the comptroller said. The authorized level is 5,262 personnel.
Usually among the easiest of appropriations bill, the Pentagon spending bill is often held back until the end of the season because Democrats are reluctant to lose leverage by letting military spending be enacted ahead of domestic priorities such as legislation funding the Labor and Health and Human Services departments. Most years the substantive issues can be worked out at the subcommittee level without involving the full committee chairmen and ranking members.
This year is different. House Republicans wrote the fiscal 2017 bill to use $16 billion in war-fighting funds for regular department needs, bringing a veto threat from the White House. If that approach became law, the Defense Department would need an emergency supplemental bill next year to continue operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Ultimately, the defense spending measure may be shaped by what President Barack Obama is willing to offer during the coming "lame-duck" session, according to Michael Herson, president of the lobbying firm American Defense International.
"They will agree to give some money to domestic spending and they will agree on some version of defense appropriations," Herson said.
For fiscal 2018, McCord said the Pentagon faces about a $33 billion gap between the Pentagon's budget cap for fiscal 2018, which remains in place, and the Defense Department's planned base funding request.