Hawks want more defense spending

Hawks want more defense spending

Forget about Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia 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 Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress 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 Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him 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 McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 EnziMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Live coverage: Senate Republicans pass tax bill The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill MORE (R-Wyo.) would meet with House leaders to determine the likelihood of the lower chamber passing one. If Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids 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: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy MORE will have to come together with Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 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 Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal 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.