Senate panel boosts war funds to $96B

Senate panel boosts war funds to $96B
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The Senate Budget Committee voted Thursday to boost a war funding account in the GOP budget next year to $96 billion, which would match the amount House Republicans are seeking in their own plan.

Members of the panel adopted the amendment, offered by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' MORE (R-S.C.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.), during a marathon markup. It passed by a party-line vote.

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The Senate budget that was unveiled a day earlier only included $58 billion for the war account, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. That’s the amount President Obama asked Congress to provide for next year. 

Graham said in order to add the extra $38 billion to get $96 billion, Congress would need to find savings outside the budget’s 10-year window.

Ranking member Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE (I-Vt.) slammed the proposal as a “budget gimmick."

“What they’re saying is, ‘Let’s spend $38 billion more on defense, but let’s not count that against the deficit,' ” he added. 

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who’s up for reelection in 2016, said he would “reluctantly support the amendment” and offered a separate one that would prevent the war fund increase from being carried over into any year after fiscal 2016. 

It could face an obstacle though. Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Budget process quick fixes: Fixing the wrong problem Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE’s (R-Wyo.) plan imposes a 60-vote point of order against any legislation requesting more than $58 billion for OCO. 

The fund has been used to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now is paying for military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The account falls outside of the base budget and Republicans are relying on it to make up for the defense sequester.

In the House, the GOP’s current budget blueprint would increase OCO to about $90 billion for next year. Fiscal and defense hawks, however, went head to head late Wednesday over whether that amount required offsets.

House GOP leaders want to increase the fund before the budget hits the floor next week to the $96 billion Graham is calling for, and without any offsets.

Both nonbinding blueprints stick to sequestration budget caps created by a 2011 law that are set to return in October.

If both resolutions contain the same overall funding levels, including OCO, it could make striking a conference agreement even easier. That only can happen if each budget is approved by its chamber next week.