WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans are slamming an internal five-page Pentagon memo that reportedly advocates pitting lawmakers against each other to undermine the defense spending proposal of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
According to Politico, which obtained the strategy document prepared for Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Deputy Secretary Bob Work by Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord and legislative affairs chief Stephen Hedger, “the principal weapon at our disposal” is President Obama’s veto threat but they still should play hardball with Congress.
Ryan has proposed using the Overseas Contingency Operations fund to increase defense spending while leaving budget ceilings for federal agencies in place.
Carter, the memo advised, should meet with Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad McCotter (R-Miss.), “who have both said they would not include the OCO gimmick in their bills and urge them to hold firm in conference.”
It advises “capitalizing” on the “discomfort” of House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) at Ryan’s plan to “help prevent the gimmick from surviving.”
They noted that House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) “is still smarting from the veto sustaining vote that the FY2016 NDAA received the first time it was on the floor last year and has vowed to do everything in his power to ensure he gets a strong vote this year.”
Thornberry reacted to the report in a statement, calling it “unfortunate and rather sad that some in the Obama administration spend so much time and effort playing political games, as evidenced by this memo.”
“In a department charged with the security of our nation, the American people and our troops deserve better,” the chairman added. “Members of Congress in both sides of the aisle are working to meet our responsibilities to our troops and to the nation. I hope that in the next administration we will have a partner who will do the same.””
The memo notes that “of the three or four aspects of opposition the department has already communicated, the idea that the gimmick gambles with war funding might resonate the loudest in Congress and the public.”
“…Engagement can be crucial in convincing Democratic members, particularly in an election year, to take a potentially difficult vote in opposition to a defense bill. Appearing at these meetings does impact votes, but it also risks the appearance of partisanship.”
It stresses that the department “can also ensure outside influencers, such as former secretaries, former military leaders, think tank leaders and media commentators are fully informed about the department’s concerns.”
“The department cannot advocate that such individuals take any specific actions, however.”
Ryan said this morning that “for this administration, it’s always politics first, even at the Pentagon.”
“This memo details with relish a plan to use a presidential veto of a defense bill as a ‘weapon.’ It’s shameless, and it threatens more than five decades of bipartisan cooperation to enact a national defense bill for our troops,” Ryan added. “The men and women who defend our country deserve better.”