In a surprise move, 89 Republicans joined 158 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote in favor of reducing the Pentagon’s budget by $1.1 billion for 2013.
The vote was held during debate of the defense appropriations bill, which the House passed July 19.
The decline in spending was brought about through an amendment co-sponsored by Tea Party Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the House's most liberal members.
The amendment froze the Pentagon’s base budget at 2012’s level of $518 billion, which is $1.1 billion lower than the House Appropriations Committee recommended for 2013.
“Austerity to me means spending less,” Mulvaney said during the House debate, adding that he would not be offering the amendment if he thought it put a single member of the military at risk.
To many observers, the bipartisan support for the legislation proved that reducing spending at the Pentagon is not a straightforward partisan issue. Instead, there appears to be support in both parties to cut the Pentagon's budget to reduce the deficit.
However, even with the reduction, the House bill includes $1.8 billion more for DoD's base budget than the Pentagon requested. It is also on a path to exceed the Budget Control Act's 2013 spending cap for defense.
To reach these conclusions, a bit of math is needed.
For its 2013 base budget, the Pentagon requested $525.4 billion, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recalibrated to $526.9 billion. This number includes funding for military construction, which is not included in the defense appropriations bill.
The House has approved $518.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget. In a separate funding bill, it provided $10.6 billion for military construction. Together, these represent $1.8 billion more than CBO’s estimate of the Pentagon’s request.
In last summer’s Budget Control Act, Congress included a provision that would revise the caps for defense spending if the congressional supercommittee failed.
Under this new cap, the budget function for national defense, known as 050, is limited to $546 billion in 2013. The 050 account is predominantly funding for the Pentagon, but also includes nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy, plus spending at other agencies.
According to Russell Rumbaugh, a defense analyst at the Stimson Center in Washington, the House has already passed $552.3 billion in funding that would fall under the 050 category.
“If these amounts became law, the House would need the Budget Control Act revised not just to avoid the sequester stemming from the supercommittee failure, but because they face sequester for breaching these Budget Control Act caps,” Rumbaugh said.