Congressional Republicans see Trump's defense budget hike as insufficient

Washington (CNN)The Pentagon unveiled President Donald Trump's defense budget request Tuesday, which seeks billions in extra funds for the military -- but falls well short of what some Republican lawmakers have sought.

The total amount being requested is about $639 billion, including $574.5 billion for the base Pentagon budget and $64.6 billion for contingency operations, like the current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Trump administration is seeking an increase to the base budget of about $52.8 billion, representing a 9.8% increase over the Fiscal Year 2017 request, which adhered to the "sequestration" budget caps instituted by the Budget Control Act. The increases would largely go toward funding training, maintenance, replacing munitions, bombs and missiles, used in Iraq and Syria, and paying for thousands of additional soldiers and marines.
But the sought-after funds represent only a $19 billion, or roughly 3%, increase over what former President Barack Obama said his administration would seek for Fiscal Year 2018, causing the request to be met with fierce criticism from defense hawks on Capitol Hill, who decried the proposal as falling well short of Trump's promises of massive increases for defense.
    "It's basically the Obama approach with a little bit more, but not much," Rep. Mac Thornberry, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday at an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.
    "This budget is totally inadequate," Sen. John McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN's Dana Bash Tuesday at the Peterson Foundation.
    "It's a 3% increase. It does not rebuild the military, it doesn't give us the personnel we need," McCain added.
    But Pentagon officials pushed back on the comparison to the Obama proposal, saying that the previous administration's figure was a hypothetical.
    "First of all, 3% is not inconsequential," John Roth, the acting undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer, told reporters of at the Pentagon Tuesday.
    "The $52 billion is real, it's a real request. Anything before this was sort of a notional paper exercise," Roth added, calling Trump's proposal an example of a "significant increased commitment on the part of this administration to defense spending."
    Roth said he would argue that $52 billion "is not chump change."
    "We are not done," he added -- signaling that future budget proposals would likely include additional requests for funds.
    But it is also unclear whether the offsetting cuts to the State Department and domestic spending proposed by the Trump administration will be able to make it through Congress, casting doubt on whether a defense spending increase can be achieved without removing the sequestration budget caps, an act that would require 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats have already voiced stiff opposition to the proposed budget cuts, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer calling it the budget a "nightmare for the average working American."
    "It's rather clear now that they're taking the money from everything else, and that makes it really hard," Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN.
    "You don't have a clear path forward for the legislature," Smith added.
    Asked about the tradeoff between domestic programs and defense spending, the Pentagon's Roth said: "It's not my place to commitment on the politics of the matter." However, he acknowledged that "there's a lot of imperatives at play here."
    "The only thing appropriate for me to do is to outline what the Defense Department needs and requirements are, and then let it go into the public forum and let people debate that as they well and should," he said.
    The budget proposal also calls on Congress to authorize a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, pointing to Pentagon estimates that that say the Defense Department has some 20% of excess infrastructure capacity.
    Despite the Pentagon's push to streamline or close bases, members of Congress have been less than welcoming of base closures in the past, due to potential job losses in their districts.
    The last BRAC round took place in 2005.
    On Tuesday, Roth called BRAC a "very significant opportunity to get some savings," and said the Pentagon believes that it could save about $2 billion a year with the cuts -- which could then be reinvested in readiness and modernization programs.
    He added that this BRAC push may be more realistic than some in the past -- lately, the Defense Department is "getting some signals" from congressional committees that they are "more amenable to it," Roth said.
    Lt. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, the director of force structure, resources and assessment for the joint chiefs of staff, stressed to reporters Tuesday that there is a pressing need for additional budgetary resources.
    "It's our responsibility to advocate for the force," Ierardi said. "The world is a very dangerous place these days. There's compelling justification for this budget."