McCain: Not passing defense spending bill would be 'almost criminal'

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that it would be “almost criminal” if Congress passed another stopgap spending measure for defense when the current one expires but said he's working with leadership to try to avoid that.

“The agenda in the Senate is crowded with ObamaCare, with the budget, with [Supreme Court nominee Neil] Gorsuch, who'll be coming to the floor as well,” said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I've been talking to [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] at length about us at least trying to take up the appropriations bill that was passed through the House. I think it's almost criminal if we don't.”

McCain was speaking alongside his House counterpart, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), to the Defense Writers Group. They're both making a full-court press against the possibility of another stopgap measure, which they and defense officials have long said is detrimental to national security.

At the end of the last session, rather than pass a full-year appropriations bill, Congress passed a stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution (CR) that expires April 28.

At that point, Congress either needs to pass a fiscal 2017 appropriations bill or pass another CR if it wants to avoid a government shutdown.

Earlier this month, the House passed a $577.9 billion spending bill to fund the Pentagon beyond that date, but the Senate has yet to take up the bill.

Even if the Senate does vote on the bill, it’s likely Democrats would block it from passing without assurances that the rest of the government wouldn’t be put under a CR.

In addition to the full legislative slate, both chambers of Congress are scheduled to be on recess from April 10 to 21, making for a tight schedule.

Thornberry said his committee has been reaching out to each service to find out what another CR would mean for them.

For the Marines, Thornberry said, a CR would mean halting all flight operations in July and having to cut more than 2,000 Marines. For the Army, he added, all but one deploying unit would stop training after July 15, including units deploying to South Korea and Europe.

“This is not something to play games,” Thornberry said. “This is lives and death and real consequences.”

Thornberry and McCain also pushed their $640 billion proposal for the base defense budget for fiscal 2018. President Trump has proposed a $603 billion base defense budget for fiscal 2018, which they say is insufficient to accomplish the buildup he proposed and they believe is needed.

Both Thornberry and McCain agreed that Trump’s budget is “not going to happen” because of proposed cuts — such as to the State Department.

They reiterated their stance that Congress needs to boost defense spending to $640 billion regardless of whether cuts can be found elsewhere.

“Mac and I are committed to making America great again,” McCain joked.

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