House Speaker Paul Ryan jabbed at Democrats on Thursday for tying a two-year deal to boost defense spending to immigration talks.
Speaking on military readiness at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Wisconsin Republican predicted a budget cap deal is "very close," but complained "partisan games" on immigration were holding up progress.
"What's so frustrating is our military is being used as a bargaining chip for completely unrelated items," Ryan told the audience.
"The defense budget is being held hostage for DACA, which is not a deadline that expires tomorrow," Ryan said, referring to the Obama-initiated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Ryan also said he plans to visit Iraq next week during the congressional recess.
The speaker is in the hot seat as House Republican leaders maneuver to pass a new stopgap funding bill before the government runs out of money Friday.
The House is set to vote on Thursday on a new continuing spending resolution to keep the government funded through Feb. 16, but Democrats are largely opposed and some Republican defense hawks are on the fence, unwilling to support more temporary funding for the military.
To pave the way for full-year government funding, congressional leaders are engaged in talks to lift strict caps on both defense and domestic spending.
The caps, first set in 2011, must be lifted or repealed to achieve massive, years-long increases in defense spending that defense hawks have sought. Ryan called his talks with other congressional leaders to lift budget caps "good-faith negotiations."
Ryan called a military buildup, a goal sought by both defense hawks on Capitol Hill and promised by President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, “my highest priority today.”
Repeating arguments employed by Republican defense hawks, the speaker warned of growing and complex national security threats, including North Korea, the Islamic State, Iran and Russia and argued a military buildup is needed to meet them.
Like the hawks in his conference, he also underscored the state of military readiness, which he called “past the breaking point.” Specifically, he pointed to long Navy work hours, high percentages of planes that can’t fly because of maintenance issues and cuts in the size of the Army.
And he cited 80 military training deaths in 2017, nearly four times the number of combat deaths in the same year.
"The cost of these readiness deficiencies are dire," Ryan said. "This is literally costing us lives."
Ryan also endorsed efforts by House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) to reform the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition process as well as auditing the Defense Department and streamlining its bureaucracy.