Hawks want more defense spending

Hawks want more defense spending

Forget about Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPoll: Both parties need to do more on drug prices Senate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump White House: Trump will delay steel tariffs for EU, six countries 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.

“I want the $17 billion that we’re short right now restored, at least,” said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAfghanistan is our longest war ever and Congress has abandoned all responsibility Kremlin: ‘We have a long way to go’ before any breakthrough with US The GOP is Trump's party now 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 JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate GOP pushes to change Senate rules for Trump House passes 'right to try' drug bill 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump GOP senator threatened to hold up bill over provision to honor late political rival: report Paul: Shutting down government not my goal 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 EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziA failure to protect students and taxpayers Corker: Why can the Pentagon 'turn entire countries into craters' but not audit itself? Sales tax battle moves to the Supreme Court MORE (R-Wyo.) would meet with House leaders to determine the likelihood of the lower chamber passing one. If Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Republicans grumble about the 'worst process ever' Winners and losers from the .3T omnibus Collins: McConnell has 'kept his commitment' on ObamaCare fix 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 Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate Winners and losers from the .3T omnibus Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill MORE will have to come together with Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzConservatives balk over funding bill ahead of shutdown  Confirmation fight over Trump pick exposes blurred lines in GOP-LGBT activism GOP pushes to change Senate rules for Trump 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 AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate Overnight Regulation: Omnibus includes deal on tip-pooling rule | Groups sue over rules for organic livestock | AT&T, DOJ make opening arguments in merger trial Warren presses Mulvaney, Azar on tip pooling 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.