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Push to boost defense spending puts GOP in budget bind

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressing Pentagon demands in a time of terror threats and Islamic State militants have put newly empowered congressional Republicans in a bind. Defense hawks want to wipe out previous spending cuts to steer more money to the military, but the GOP is divided over how to do it without piling billions onto the deficit.

Many deficit hawks insist that any increases for the military should be financed by cuts to domestic programs even as GOP pragmatists warn that could cause a budget logjam that would drag on for months. And that’s before GOP leaders begin talks with President Barack Obama, who’s demanding increases for domestic agencies, too.

At issue is the budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. While programs like Social Security, Medicare and food stamps run on autopilot, agency budgets are passed by Congress each year and require Obama’s signature.

The problem stems from the hard-fought budget and debt bill of August 2011. A so-called supercommittee failed to reach a broad fiscal deal, resulting in spending cuts on the day-to-day operating budgets of virtually every federal agency. Two years later, the pain hit — across-the-board spending cuts.

The result was a blow to the Pentagon, with the department’s core spending on ships, planes, personnel and warfighting equipment reduced. Instead of a core budget of $577 billion, defense spending would be limited to $523 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“We really cannot put a 2016 spending plan together at the $523 billion level,” said senior House Armed Service Committee member Michael Conaway, R-Texas. “That’s just unacceptable. We have to fix it somehow.”

While many GOP conservatives want to reduce the budget for domestic agencies to free up funds for the military, party pragmatists warn that this approach failed badly when House Republicans tried it two years ago.

Others are eying cuts to other programs to provide relief similar to the bipartisan 2013 budget deal than rankled GOP conservatives.

Under Capitol Hill’s arcane process, Congress first passes a non-binding measure called a budget resolution that sets overall spending and lays out agency budgets in broad parameters. Then the appropriations committees get to work, spending much of the summer and fall writing detailed spending bills.

The budget typically passes on a party-line vote, but the individual spending bills need at least some Democratic support since several GOP hard-liners refuse to back many of them in an effort to rein in government spending.

Any resolution of the mess appears to be months away since Republicans appear certain to go their own way on the budget. Ultimately they’ll need Obama’s approval on any solution since they lack the votes to overcome any vetoes.

Obama requested an additional $38 billion for the Pentagon and $37 billion more for non-defense programs in his budget, financed by tax hikes and spending cuts such as curbing payments to health care providers. Republicans swiftly dismissed the idea.

Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and hardliners in both the House and Senate, want to stick to the tighter limits. That means more money for defense could only come from raiding non-defense programs dear to Obama and his Democratic allies.

“I’d like to have more money for defense,” McConnell said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “What I want is the overall cap to stay in place if possible. And it’s a challenge because to restore money on defense, the Democrats are going to want to restore money on the domestic side. So it’s a big challenge.”

House Republicans tried that approach two years ago but stalled after Democrats withheld support for pared-back domestic spending bills and GOP conservatives refused to vote for them either. GOP leaders were forced to pull a bill funding transportation and housing programs, and Congress’ appropriations process stalled.

“We can’t pass bills that way,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who sits on both the Budget and Appropriations committees. “If you savage all these other accounts and Republicans aren’t willing to vote for them even then, which is what happened when T-HUD (transportation, housing and urban development) went down a couple years ago, then you put yourself in a situation where you can’t move legislation.”

The impasse and a subsequent partial government shutdown led Republicans to seek a more peaceful resolution. A subsequent agreement between Republicans controlling the House and the then-Democratic-controlled Senate in late 2013 restored $63 billion worth of sequester cuts over fiscal 2014 and 2015, paid for by a combination of other cuts and user fees spread out over a decade.

Some Republicans and the White House see the 2013 agreement, negotiated by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as a model to emulate.

“I don’t see any reason why Congress couldn’t come together and do that again … paid for by deficit reduction spread out over time,” said top White House economist Jason Furman in a recent interview with the AP.

“It’s a work in progress,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

View Comments

  • Peace or even massive reductions in the use of armed forces is horribly inconvenient for the military-industrial complex, isn't it? Back around the time of sequestration, two of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces said that the Cold War "spend all the money you can on military weaponry and junk" mentality in Congress was actually harmful to the military since it larded them up with useless stuff they did not need and did not want - that often did not work. But it kept the good old boys in the industrial part of the equation very fat and happy.

    Interesting day when the generals think lean and responsible funding is better. That is one more step toward having peace break out.

  • "Defense hawks want to wipe out previous spending cuts to steer more money to the military, but the GOP is divided over how to do it without piling billions onto the deficit."

    Here's what real people with real budgets know - you can't do it without increasing deficit spending.

  • "Obama requested an additional $38 billion for the Pentagon and $37 billion more for non-defense programs in his budget, financed by tax hikes and spending cuts such as CURBING payments to health care providers. Republicans swiftly dismissed the idea."

    We could have billions of extra dollars if the reimbursement rate to private healthcare providers was the same as to public providers. The Bush administration's passage of the "Medicare Reform Act of 2002" was a gift of Billions and billions to the providers of 'Medicare Advantage' programs.
    The reimbursement rates to these private insurers was 14%, when the public providers, physicians, hospitals, etc., was 4%, out of the Medicare Budget.
    These private insurers are still receiving more in reimbursements, but not as much as before the ACA. These private insurers need to be reimbursed the SAME as physicians and hospitals.
    It would save US billions each year.

  • over half of our proposed FY 2016 federal budget is MILITARY...WHY???

    Military 54%
    Education 6%
    Housing 6%
    veterans benefits 6%
    goverment 6%
    medicare 5%
    energy 4%
    international affairs 4%
    SS Unemployment 3%
    Science 3%
    Transportation 2%
    food-agriculture 1%

    • I've been saying this for years. Of our total $3 Trillion per year budget, if you add up all of our actual defense costs, FBI, CIA, NSA, TSA, Foreign bribes, the VA, our Military budget, etc, etc, that portion comes to a bit over $1 Trillion per year. And as you point out, of our discretionary budget, the Military Budget and the VA(which should always be included in the Military budget, not a separate section) alone amount to 60%. That's outrageous!

    • It would be nice if you would point out that this is part 2 of a pie chart. Military spending is at 813.9b of a 3.7t budget. That is a far cry to 55%. You fail to mention that it is 55% of discretionary spending and that is only 29% of total budget.
      Lets also keep in mind when talking about defense spending that the military pays for everything. The fuel in them vehicles is bought at the same price you pay for it from the same companies. Not like china that the government owns the fuel to start with. The Russians don't pay to feed their troops, they just take what they need. Not like that here.

  • Could we cancel the aid to Netanyahu, that would sure provide some health care here, maybe even as good as the Israeli health care.

    • Not only should we cut all aid to Israel, but our Congress has been acting illegally in providing aid to a country that keeps pushing the US to beat up on Iran for unproven attempts to build nuclear weapons, but all the while has had it's own illegally gained and secret nuclear arsenal, all while refusing inspections by the IAEA. Our Congress is owned by a foreign lobby, AIPAC:

      US Aid To Israel Is Illegal According To US Law - The Bilzerian Report

  • If Republicans want spending cuts so badly, I say we start by cutting Congressional salaries, benefits and pensions.

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