McCain changes tune after calling war fund a budget ‘gimmick’

Greg Nash

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday signaled he is open to a proposal by House Republicans that would add tens of billions of dollars to the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund to get around spending caps for the Pentagon.

“I do not like that, but I will consider anything to get the numbers up,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters.

The comment is a marked changed from Monday, when McCain characterized the use of the war fund as a gimmick.

“I view increases in OCO sort of [as] a contradiction of what OCO was supposed to be all about many years ago, when we started it as a result of Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said Tuesday. “But I will support most anything that increases spending for defense. We have to do it.”

A provision in the House Budget Committee blueprint, rolled out on Tuesday morning, calls for boosting OCO spending to about $90 billion, nearly $40 billion over President Obama’s request.

The amount would just about cover the administration’s request for the Defense Department, which was $38 billion above the spending caps for the next fiscal year.

The measure is meant to assuage defense hawks in the House who have criticized sequestration budget ceilings that are set to return in fiscal 2016.

McCain said, while he still prefers to take money from later years to raise spending levels for the DOD, “every uniform leader has said the lives of men and women in uniform are at greater risk. I can’t then support anything that doesn’t give them an increase in their capabilities.”

He predicted it would be “hard” for the GOP-controlled Congress to pass a budget if the Pentagon’s budget levels aren’t increased.

“Then. I don’t see how it gets passed,” according to McCain.

He added that such a failure would show that “there’s a number of people that don’t agree that our national security is our first priority, it seems to me.”

McCain’s change of heart did not extend to Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel.

The House proposal is a “gimmick, more than anything else,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Tags Jack Reed John McCain

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