House Speaker Paul Ryan: Democrats Holding the Military ‘Hostage’ for DACA

Paul Ryan
The Associated Press

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday blasted Democrats for refusing to pass a 2018 government spending bill that does not include a fix for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by a Friday night deadline, risking a potential government shutdown.

Ryan said Democrats’ refusal to pass a budget was harming the military, which relies on on-time full-year budgets to procure needed weapons systems and plan on how to meet current and future threats.

“We have to buy equipment. We have to buy munitions. We have to prepare and plan. And it is a dangerous environment right now,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ryan said rebuilding the military — which has been depleted after almost two decades of war — is essential to confronting today’s threats, adding:

North Korea is working to build ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental United States. Iran is marching forward with its quest for regional hegemony by backing terrorism across the globe. And what is left of ISIS is trying to figure out how to expand and influence terrorism in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, and into the West, including by inspiring attacks right here at home.

Meanwhile, he said, Russia and China are threatening to remake the world order.

“So our adversaries, they recognize the supremacy that we have in the traditional domains of warfare, so they’re developing capabilities that put our most vital interests at risk while avoiding our traditional strengths.”

“This is not some problem that we’re projecting to happen years from now,” he added. “This is a problem that is occurring right now.”

President Trump campaigned on rebuilding and growing the size of the military, but those plans are jeopardized by continued budget uncertainty.

Ryan listed a litany of readiness challenges facing the military:

“Funding for modernizing the Army has been cut in half in the past eight years. Navy sailors are putting in 100-hour work weeks, and less than half of their aircraft are capable of flying. So we’re pushing our sailors to 100-hour work weeks and half of their planes can fly.

“Roughly 80 percent of the Marine Corps aviation units lack the minimum number of ready basic aircraft. The Air Force is the smallest size in our nation’s history, and the average age of their aircraft is 27 years old.

“The cost of these readiness deficiencies are really dire, and this is literally costing us lives.”

Last year, he said, 80 troops were killed in training accidents — four times as many who were killed in combat. “We need to do better. We ask a lot of our men and women in uniform,” he said.

Ryan blamed Democrats for refusing to take up a 2018 spending bill — which was due last year at the start of the 2018 fiscal year on October 1, 2017.

“Twice now, the House has passed an appropriations measure to back up our commitments. Two appropriation bills fully funding the military passed through the House twice, but have remained stalled in the Senate because of opposition from Senate Democrats,” he said.

“The Senate, it takes 60 votes to even consider a bill. And so they have always threatened to filibuster to even bring up and consider appropriations, to use as leverage in negotiations for unrelated issues,” he said.

“And my entire point is this is the first and foremost responsibility of the federal government, keeping the nation safe, giving our men and women in uniform the equipment and tools they need. And it is really dire. The training accidents alone should be screaming: Fix this,” he said.

Ryan said before Democrats demanded a DACA fix, Congress was close to reaching a 2018 spending bill that would lift defense budget caps and give the Pentagon more certainty.

“We are very close to getting that kind of a cap agreement we need to give the budget certainty that the Pentagon needs, to give the year-long budget and appropriations that they need. But for these unrelated issues, it would have happened,” he said.

“They need to stop playing politics with this. And that’s my biggest concern, is the politicization of our men and women in uniform. Our men and women in uniform are not bargaining chips. They are our best and our brightest who put their lives on the line for us,” he said.

House Republicans on Tuesday evening put forward a stop-gap bill to avoid a shutdown for another several weeks and give Congress more time to pass a budget, but only one Senate Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — has said he will vote for it, and Senate Republicans need at least nine Democratic or Independent votes to get it through.

Ryan placed the blame squarely on Democrats.

“Just so you know exactly what’s going on right now, the defense budget is being held hostage for DACA, which is not a deadline that expires tomorrow,” he said.

Trump rescinded the Obama-era policy that would allow “Dreamers” who arrived illegally in the United States as children to defer deportation for two years and apply for two-year work permits, but gave Congress until March 5 to find a solution for them.

He said Republicans do want to find a fix for DACA, and that “good-faith” negotiations are already underway.

“But we should not be holding hostage the military for this. It’s completely unrelated. And those are the partisan games that are being played right now. And quite frankly, it does not just damage to our morale, but it does damage to our military,” he said.

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