Hawks want more defense spending

Hawks want more defense spending

Forget about Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPro-Trump group protests CNN coverage NY Times rips Spicer in goodbye editorial NSA chief: Now is 'not the best time' for US-Russia cyber unit MORE. The looming budget debate is emerging as the biggest headache for congressional Republicans in 2016.

Defense hawks on both sides of Capitol Hill on Tuesday called for billions of dollars in new military spending, putting themselves on a collision course with fiscal conservatives.

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“I want the $17 billion that we’re short right now restored, at least,” said Sen. John McCainJohn McCainManchin bashes GOP candidate for pushing McCain to resign McCain’s primary challenger asks him to step aside after diagnosis Sen. McCain goes on hike after cancer diagnosis MORE (Ariz.), the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain argues the Bipartisan Budget Act, which leaders negotiated last year to set the top-line spending numbers for fiscal 2016 and 2017, set a floor for defense spending, not a ceiling.

McCain and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) pounced on the budget President Obama submitted to Congress Tuesday for not spending more on defense.

“Last year, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, which establishes a minimum level of funding for our military,” Thornberry said. “I hoped such an agreement would provide some budget stability and begin to rebuild our military. 

“Unfortunately, this administration continues to play budgetary games with our country’s security and diminishes what credibility it had left.” 

Other Republicans joined McCain and Thornberry in calling for more defense funding in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.  

“I agree with John McCain. I think defense spending and the Department of Homeland Security, these things are the priority of government, so we need to allocate the proper resources,” said Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonCruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails GOP frets over stalled agenda Conservatives target Congress, not Trump, after healthcare collapse MORE (R-Wis.). “The threats are real and growing.”

At the same time, Democrats say they will insist on increased spending caps for domestic, non-defense programs if Republicans boost military funding — setting up an impasse that GOP leaders thought was resolved by last year’s budget deal.

“If we’re going to increase defense spending, we ought to do the same for the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and others,” said a senior Democratic aide.

Conservative Republicans want to go in the opposite direction.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus want to slash spending below the level set by last year’s budget deal. They would prefer to set the spending trajectory more in line with the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The Congressional Budget Office, meanwhile, has projected rising deficits over the next decade, adding degrees of difficulty to the task facing GOP leaders.

Putting together a balanced budget will require finding an additional $300 billion in savings over the next decade, according to one lawmaker familiar with the internal debate. The budget was easier to reach balance last year because deficits weren’t projected to increase by as much as the Congressional Budget Office now anticipates.

The administration on Tuesday disputed that it has shortchanged the Pentagon.

“The president’s budget abides by the bipartisan funding agreement passed by Congress last fall in which the administration successfully advocated for substantial relief from harmful sequester levels for both defense and non-defense funding,” said an administration official.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails Parliamentarian deals setback to GOP repeal bill OPINION | How Democrats stole the nation's lower federal courts MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters during a joint Senate-House retreat in Baltimore last month that leaders would make a serious effort to pass a budget this spring, but he left himself some wiggle room.

“We’re certainly committed to trying to pass a budget this year, no question about it,” he said.

Republican senators now say a budget plan still may not come to the floor, citing the divide between pro-defense and fiscally conservative lawmakers.

Senate Republicans held a meeting at the end of January to discuss the pros and cons of passing a budget this year, according to lawmakers who participated.

It was decided that Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMike EnziTrump reopens fight on internet sales tax Rift opens in GOP over budget strategy GOP chairman wants 'robust' tax reform process in the Senate MORE (R-Wyo.) would meet with House leaders to determine the likelihood of the lower chamber passing one. If Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP divided over care for transgender troops Want bipartisan health reform? Make the debate honest again Ex-CBO directors defend against GOP attacks on ObamaCare analysis MORE (R-Wis.) can’t rally his conference around a proposal, the Senate likely will not act.

“We’ll have to twist a lot of arms to pass a budget. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP wrestles with soaring deductibles in healthcare bill Sunday shows preview: Scaramucci makes TV debut as new communication chief The GOP Wonder Women who saved healthcare for 22 million MORE will have to come together with Ted CruzTed CruzGOP wrestles with soaring deductibles in healthcare bill Cruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails Ex-CBO directors defend against GOP attacks on ObamaCare analysis MORE. What’s the point of doing that if the House can’t pass a budget?” said one GOP senator, referring to one of the most centrist and one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate.

Passing a budget would force vulnerable incumbent Republican senators to vote on an array of politically charged issues. The budget process gives the minority party wide latitude to introduce amendments.

“Surely the vote-a-rama will be an exercise in political pain. We all know that. It will be an exercise in pain, period,” quipped Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate panel rejects Trump funding cuts on Energy Department programs Governors-turned-senators meet to talk healthcare With healthcare bill derailed, GOP wonders: What now? MORE (R-Tenn.). “I don’t know what will happen. Having the top-line number already set reduces the urgency” of passing a budget.

This has led to growing calls within the Senate GOP conference to skip a budget altogether, even though McConnell last month vowed “a major effort.”

“Don’t get too ambitious,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, who noted last year’s budget deal set the top-line spending numbers for fiscal 2016 and 2017.

“We did without a budget for 180 years. We authorized and appropriated,” he said, noting the practice of passing congressional budgets wasn’t established until the mid-1970s. “Do we really need a budget? We got a top line.”

“I’ve never been a big fan why we ever needed a budget. We did pretty well without them before 1974,” he added, referring to the year the Congressional Budget Act passed. 

Kristina Wong contributed.