Democrats may not actually be interested in solving a fight over immigration reform that stands in the way of passing a defense budget and averting a government shutdown this week, said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the House Armed Services Committee chairman.
Thornberry blamed Democrats for playing political games with concerns over military funding and children of illegal immigrants who are losing protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
“I am increasingly concerned on the DACA deal that some people might not want to resolve the issue. They may rather have the issue out there because they think it’s to their political advantage,” he told reporters during a breakfast roundtable on Tuesday. “They still say expressly they’re not going to vote for military funding until DACA is resolved, but they may not want to resolve DACA because they are getting political benefit out of it.”
Congress has just over three days to either pass a budget deal that could hike defense spending, pass another temporary funding measure, or face a partial government shutdown that could cause a major headache for the Pentagon.
“I don’t know what the situation will be over the course of the week. I really think a full agreement is very possible and it is very possible in a short about of time,” Thornberry said. “The question is, do people want an agreement or do they want to have an issue? That is the question I don’t know the answer to.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan has said another continuing resolution — the fourth since September — will likely be needed to give more time for negotiations and for Congress to draft an omnibus appropriations legislation based on levels of defense and non-defense spending.
A new stopgap measure would likely last into mid-February.
Thornberry, who holds sway over defense hawks in the House, opposed a continuing resolution in September and has been a major critic of the CRs, which can delay maintenance and bar the military from starting new programs.
But he voted in support of the last CR passed in December and said Tuesday that he was still undecided about any new one.
“We’ll see what the situation is,” he said.
Thornberry also said he has not talked with the Pentagon about any so-called “anomalies,” or added funding for specific items, that it may want included in another CR. A stopgap passed last month included $4.7 billion for emergency defense needs such as ship repair and missile defense.
“One of the points I’ve tried to make to all my colleagues is there is no number of ‘anomalies’ that can fix the damage that a CR causes. You just can’t do it,” Thornberry said. “So, the idea that you could just give us a little of this and a little of that and the CR wouldn’t be so bad is blatantly not true.”