© Francis Rivera
The Pentagon will throw down the gauntlet Thursday against the GOP plan to leave federal budget caps in place next year but boost defense spending levels.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is planning to deliver a speech Thursday afternoon that will rebut that plan, a senior defense official told The Hill.
"The secretary believes firmly that you cannot exempt the Defense Department alone from sequestration and continue to meet all the needs of our national security demands," the official said Wednesday.
To emphasize the message that it's not just the defense spending caps that need to be lifted, Carter is delivering the speech at an event at the State Department attended by top U.S. diplomats, the official said.
The Republican plan would keep in place spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, and keep the Pentagon's base budget at $523 billion, but boost a wartime funding account — which is not subject to the caps — to more than $90 billion.
Meanwhile, the president has threatened to veto any budget that keeps in place the caps, and is instead urging Congress to make the necessary compromises to undo the Budget Control Act and lift caps for both defense and non-defense spending.
Under the president’s plan, the caps would be lifted and base defense spending would be $561 billion, with war funding at $51 billion.
Although defense and military leaders have argued against the caps and the damage cuts are doing to the military's readiness, Carter said at a hearing last week he supported the president's plan.
Defense officials also argue that boosting wartime funding, known as the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, will not work to boost the overall defense budget. This is because it is only budgeted one year at a time and is meant for short-term contingencies, and cannot fund multi-year programs or support strategy that lasts more than a year.
Defense experts say the Pentagon's rejection will make it unlikely that the House and Senate's budget resolutions — which only guide spending levels — will be adhered to, especially because the boost would be in the OCO, which has been criticized by budget hawks and progressives as a Pentagon “slush fund.”
They say defense appropriators are unlikely to appropriate the full $90 billion, especially if the Pentagon says it doesn’t need that much money in wartime spending.
“That is not going to be a ... supportable proposition by most members of Congress. It will be a number lower. That is a fact. That is a guarantee," said Mackenzie Eaglen, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, earlier this week at a Foreign Policy Initiative and American Action Forum event.
And if the Pentagon says it doesn’t need $90 billion in OCO, “that will change the dynamic and keep the number a lot lower. It will keep it closer to $70 billion,” she added.
Defense budget experts predict there will be some kind of deal like the one struck by Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayUnder pressure, Democrats cut back spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised Senate Democrats ditch Hyde amendment for first time in decades MORE (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) in 2013 to partially lift the defense caps for two years.
“Congress has done it twice already, and we know they’re going to do it again with the Price-Enzi deal, some kind of follow on to the Ryan-Murray, but they’re not going to do it until they’ve exhausted every other available option and they’ve gone through this long, torturous path to get there,” Eaglen said.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, AAF president and former Congressional Budget Office director, agreed.
“Deals are not clean victories; they are coalitions of the disgruntled getting half of what they want," he said.