Defense hawks are gearing up for a new fight as House Republicans try to find a way to fund the government before a looming Dec. 11 deadline.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) sent a letter to House Republican leadership earlier this week on behalf of 102 House Republicans who won't settle for less than $561 billion for the Pentagon's base requirements.
"Our letter is to make certain that there is a clear understanding of support to leadership that defense must be fully funded," Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, told The Hill in a recent interview.
"We're defense and budget hawks — but we just don't believe that cuts should occur on the backs of the men and women in uniform," he said. "We've been told by [former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey] that this is the bottom of the ragged edge of what is needed for national defense."
Turner said he sent a similar letter earlier this year with 70 signatures, which helped set the bottom line for defense spending in negotiations.
Now, he said, more lawmakers — including 11 House Freedom Caucus members — have signed on because they realize the importance of defense spending.
"I don't believe you can be a conservative unless you support defense," he said.
"I think that people who claim to be conservative who don't support defense are just ill-informed," he continued. "People who signed this letter are informed, understand what's at risk, understand what's necessary to fund our national security."
The letter also underscores a starting over point for the 2016 budget.
The White House has promised to veto any bill that does not lift spending caps on the federal budget put into place by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Fiscal conservatives in the House refused to support a budget that lifts those caps, but compromised with defense hawks to put more money for defense into a war fund not subject to that ceiling.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Congress passed on a bipartisan basis and was sent to the president this week, authorizes funding in line with that plan.
The president, however, is poised to veto the bill on Thursday. Although the bill authorizes the same amount of money the White House requested for 2016 — $612 billion — it authorizes funding in line with the budget caps.
Turner said in light of talks to reach a budget solution by Dec. 11, when a short-term government funding measure expires, defense hawks need to draw a line in the sand.
"We want the leadership to know that that's where the ultimate negotiations need to stop," he said. "This is the bottom line that we'll go."
"We wanted to be clear as that process moves forward regardless of how all those other issues are resolved, the bottom line for defense, it's remained the same," he said.
Turner said the White House has not been engaged in the budget discussions and has no alternative plan after vetoing the NDAA.
"Unfortunately, the White House has not been very active in this," Turner said.
"When you sit down for budget negotiations with the White House, the House representatives have sitting next to them all the bills we passed, the Senate has a file filled with some sketchy notes, and the president's file is empty," he said.
Turner also had some very pointed criticism for the president, who he said has not yet come to the negotiating table.
"He needs to come to the table in a meaningful way, to resolve the rest of these issues, but this is pretty critical," he said. "He can't just sit on a hill and say 'no.' He's got to be part of the process."
"This is in his job description. Maybe he has to dust it off and read it and then come to the table and actually perform."