Democrats slam GOP for 'gimmicks' in defense budget
Senate Democrats on Thursday slammed Republicans for using a war fund to help alleviate congressionally mandated spending caps on the Defense Department. 
"Using the [Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)] fund to pay our troops or to purchase weapons to keep us safe is a terrible mistake," Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters. "Our military deserves real support, not GOP gimmicks." 
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes an extra $38 billion in the OCO fund, which isn't subjected to the budget restrictions. The fund is meant to pay for the Pentagon's wars, but critics argue it has been turned into a slush fund. 
The White House and Senate Democrats have pledged to block any bill that increases defense spending without equally increasing nondefense spending. 
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Republicans are "wasting time" working to pass an annual defense bill that the White House has threatened to veto. 
"Republicans are showing yet another way they can't govern. Now they're wasting time on a bill that has no chance of becoming law," he said. "No chance. No troops will be helped by the bill that can't be signed into law." 
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (R-Ariz.) has defended using the war fund, saying, "the only thing we have is the hand that we're dealt, which is the OCO budget. We are acting according to the budget that was passed." 
Asked about adding the $38 billion back to the Pentagon's base budget and getting a deal on increasing the budget cap, he added, "all of those things are great, but they're not going to be agreed to." 
"I'll take OCO every time. It's my job not to put the lives of the young men and women who are serving in the military at risk. Without OCO, we do that," McCain said. "If the president vetoes it, he vetoes it." 
He has introduced an amendment that would authorize the extra $38 billion in spending for the war fund but fence it off until senators deal with the budget caps. 
Reed told reporters he's hopeful that, if the amendment passes, it would "signal that the [Budget Control Act] has to be modified." 
Democrats suggested the current fight over the war fund is a precursor to a larger battle with Republicans over a defense appropriations bill later this year. 
"Regardless of what happens with the NDAA this month, Republicans should be absolutely crystal clear about one thing: Democrats will not vote to put a defense appropriations bill on the floor that uses accounting trickery and budget gimmicks to fund our troops," Schumer told reporters. 
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added that he told Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, that, on the defense spending bill, the "Senate Democratic caucus is going to recommend to members not to proceed to this bill." 
But it's unclear whether Democrats will also try to block the NDAA, a policy bill, to try to add pressure on Republicans to get a deal on spending. 
Asked whether Democrats were planning to block final passage of the defense policy bill, Durbin said, "We'll wait and see what happens at the end of the amendment process." 
Democrats warn that using the war fund to help bolster the Defense Department hurts the Pentagon's ability to do long-term budget planning. 
"[The OCO wasn't] designed for long-term development for the armed forces," Reed said, adding that using it "makes it difficult if not impossible for commanders to plan for the long-term defense of the United States." 
Both Republicans and Democrats have called for lifting the congressionally mandated budget caps, but a solution has proved elusive for lawmakers. 
Asked whether he thought he would be able to reach a deal, McCain said, "There's been a thousand meetings and a thousand conversations, and so far nothing has been worked out."