Top House Republican on defense plans bigger budget than Obama's

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is sticking with the House Republican budget for this year's defense authorization bill, which would set defense spending levels higher than the president’s budget and the budget caps agreed to in last year’s debt-limit deal.

McKeon's plan to use the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which committee aides confirmed to The Hill, is the chairman's first negotiating marker in a battle with the Obama administration and Senate Democrats over how big the defense budget should be.

While the size of the defense budget is frequently up for debate, this year it is constrained by spending caps set in last year’s Budget Control Act.

The Budget Control Act caused the Pentagon to plan for budget cuts of $487 billion over the next decade, which were included in the president’s budget this year.

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Ryan’s budget plan undoes some of those reductions. His budget, which passed the House before the spring recess, would boost defense spending numbers over the next decade while cutting other discretionary spending.

McKeon gave a speech last month at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., where he said he also would fight to undo the $487 billion in cuts from the debt-limit deal.

The Pentagon has said it can assume the risk from the initial $487 billion cut, but not an additional $500 billion in cuts through sequestration that's set to hit in January 2013.

Most assume the sequestration battle will occur during the lame-duck session after the election, while the Armed Services committees are looking to finish the authorization bill before the election, with a conference committee in September or October, according to one GOP aide.

A McKeon aide confirmed Thursday that the House Armed Services Committee will use Ryan’s $554.2 billion for its defense spending level, an increase of $3.6 billion from the president’s $550.6 billion defense request. Both budgets are above the $546 billion cap in the Budget Control Act.

The defense budgets include the base discretionary Pentagon budget and some nuclear funding in the Department of Energy, but not the $88 billion requested for overseas contingency operations.

Republicans have been wrangling with the Pentagon over the president’s cuts to the Pentagon, repeatedly questioning military leaders during congressional hearings about whether the president’s budget provides enough funding.

Ryan ignited a controversy last month when he said, “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice” on the budget, a remark he later apologized for.

If the House passes an authorization bill with the House Republican spending levels, it will almost assuredly be a different top-line figure from the bill the Senate passes, requiring a deal to reconcile the differences in conference committee.

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said that the GOP using the defense spending level from the Ryan budget was an “opening gambit.”

“My belief is we should stick to the BCA number, because it’s the law, first of all, and second of all, we have an enormous deficit,” Smith told The Hill.

Smith said that if defense spending comes in over the budget caps, “you have to slash away at other things like transportation and infrastructure, housing and a lot of other places that have already been severely cut.”

Still, he expected the conference committee between the House and Senate could resolve any issues, as they solved a $20 billion gap last year — because the House passed its authorization bill before the debt-limit deal was reached, and the Senate after the caps had been established.

The House Armed Services aide said the committee hopes to mark up the bill in May and get it through conference committee by September or October.