Senate Dems warn Republicans 'they'll lose' defense fight

Senate Dems warn Republicans 'they'll lose' defense fight
© Greg Nash

Senior Senate Democrats on Tuesday warned Republicans that they will ultimately lose the spending fight embroiling a defense policy bill.

"They'll lose and they've lost each time they've tried this folly," Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, said at a press conference. "Sooner or later they're going to have to back off." 

"We don't want crises of shutdowns and slam-downs," added Sen. Barbara Mikulski, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

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Republicans are trying to skirt sequestration on 2016 defense spending by routing $38 billion into a war fund that's not subject to budget caps, while leaving them intact for nondefense spending. Doing so would allow them to meet the president's request for defense spending, at $612 billion. 

However, Democrats say the caps should be lifted for nondefense spending too, and the White House has threatened to veto any bill that adheres to the caps. 

Schumer's warning came immediately after the failure of an amendment to the Senate's defense authorization bill that would have fenced off the $38 billion until the caps were raised for nondefense spending. 

Schumer said the amendment, introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, would have headed off a presidential veto, and its failure was a "harbinger of bad things to come."

The amendment failed 46-51 on the Senate floor, with every Republican present voting against it, and every Democrat voting for it.  

Schumer would not say whether Democrats planned to filibuster the defense authorization bill, which the Senate is expected to vote on this week, but said "the big fight" would be over the defense appropriations bill. 

Senate Democrats reiterated Tuesday they will block the spending bill from being considered next week until Republicans begin a discussion on how to lift the caps for nondefense spending too. 

"I would urge that we begin now to begin what everyone says they want to do," said Reed, who spoke alongside Schumer

Schumer said Democrats have been calling on Republicans to start the discussion, but so far Republicans have refused. 

He acknowledged that many Republicans also wanted to lift the caps, but that fiscal conservatives in their party wanted to leave them on. 

He urged the party to "break free from the hard right." 

"Let's get away from sequestration," he said.