Key Dem offers measure fencing off $38B in war funds

Key Dem offers measure fencing off $38B in war funds

A key Democrat introduced legislation on Wednesday to fence off $38 billion in war funding until Congress finds a way to lift federal spending caps known as sequestration. 

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Pavlich: The Senate defends its integrity Five Senate Democrats make impeachment case in Spanish MORE (D-R.I.) says the additional funds should be in the base budget for the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, and not in the war fund.

The GOP-written bill authorizes $523 billion for base defense spending, in line with federal budget caps, but authorizes $89 billion in its war funding account, which isn't subject to caps.  

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While that meets the White House's overall defense budget request of $612 billion, the president has urged Congress to lift the spending caps and provide $551 billion for base defense spending and just $51 billion in war funding.  

The president has threatened to veto any bill that "locks in" the caps, and opposes increasing defense spending spending without also increasing non-defense spending. 

Reed on Wednesday urged his colleagues to consider his amendment, which could help avoid a White House veto but force Congress to strike a deal on lifting those caps. 

"I think we have to do this, and I think we can start this process now," he said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

"In fact, I would say if we don’t start this process now, if we don't send a strong signal — and my proposal would send that strong signal — then I am afraid we're be just victims of the calendar," he said. 

Fiscal conservatives have opposed lifting the caps, while liberals have opposed lifting the caps on defense spending without doing so for non-defense spending.

A number of Democrats oppose using the war funding account, known as Overseas Contingency Operations, to skirt the budget caps. 

Sen. Bob Nelson (D-Fla.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, on Wednesday blasted it as "budget trickery." 

Reed said the use of the war fund was problematic, because it is meant to fund short contingency operations one year at a time and would not give Pentagon planners the ability to plan for multi-year programs. 

"Defense budgeting needs to be based on a long-term military strategy, which requires the DOD to focus at least five years ahead," Reed said.  

Reed proposed his amendment unsuccessfully when the Senate Armed Service Committee took up the bill. The bill passed 22-4, with Reed and three other Democrats voting against.