U.S. lawmaker hit backs at Pentagon argument for bigger budget

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon is being “a little bit disingenuous” when it says that Congress would be putting the armed forces at risk if it did not approve an increased defense budget, a key U.S. congressman said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial view of the United States military headquarters, the Pentagon, September 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

The Pentagon’s pick to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command said last week that a budget below $733 billion for fiscal year 2020 would increase the risk to the military.

“I think that the Department of Defense is being a little bit disingenuous,” Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat who is expected to head the House Armed Services Committee next year, told reporters. He said lawmakers will have to balance military needs with other priorities.

“What is the magic of $733 (billion), can you explain that to me? I’ve asked that question of several Pentagon officials, thus far I have not been satisfied with the answer,” Smith said.

The Pentagon has been expected to ask Congress for a budget of $733 billion for fiscal year 2020, higher than a $700 billion figure cited by President Donald Trump in October and signaling a military spending hike at a time of potential belt-tightening elsewhere in the government.

Earlier this week, a U.S. official told Reuters that Trump in fact had backed plans to request $750 billion for defense spending next year.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has often said that “America can afford survival” when making an argument for higher defense spending.

“If you want to talk about we can afford survival, how many people in this country have died on collapsing bridges,” Smith said.

“I think what they want to do to you in the military-industrial complex is they want to convince you that if you don’t spend the money, you are fundamentally killing people. It’s not quite that simple a formulation.”

On Tuesday, Trump brawled with the top two Democratic lawmakers about paying for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that they see as ineffective and wasteful. Trump said the military would build the border wall if Congress did not act.

Smith said that there was bipartisan support to put legislation in place that would not allow Pentagon funding for the wall or use troops to build it.

Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Alistair Bell