From left: Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., speak to the media April 10 about balancing the budget on Capitol Hill. (Allison Shelley / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Hawkish Republican lawmakers are charging President Barack Obama with proposing a 2014 Pentagon budget that would leave the military unable to deal with instability in Syria and the Korean Peninsula.
But GOP leaders slammed the White House’s overall 2014 federal budget blueprint as too large, calling for more sizable spending cuts — and again exposing a major fissure in the Republican Party.
The White House on Wednesday unveiled a budget plan that includes $526.6 billion in Pentagon spending for next fiscal year. It also features an $88 billion placeholder figure for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations; a final war-spending request should hit Capitol Hill in coming months.
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, Obama said his budget proposal is one of compromise, saying its contents would help Washington return to its practice of passing budgets and spending bills. For several years, Congress and the White House have lurched from one high-profile crisis to the next.
“Frankly, the American people deserve better than what we’ve been seeing: A shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making,” Obama said.
As first reported by Defense News, Obama’s overall government budget plan excludes the twin $500 billion defense and domestic spending cut mandated under the 2011 Budget Control Act, which lawmakers failed to turn off.
“My budget also replaces the foolish across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting our economy,” Obama said, calling the cuts “reckless.”
The 2014 budget plan would, if enacted, replace the $1 trillion in deficit reduction achieved by sequester cuts in two ways.
One is through more than $600 billion in new federal revenue that the administration expects will be collected via higher tax rates imposed on the wealthiest Americans by the January fiscal cliff-avoidance law. The other way is through $500 billion in “interest savings” from past deficit-reduction moves.
For the Pentagon, the Obama plan would not only remove the so-called “meat-ax approach” of sequestration, which calls for cuts of around $50 billion annually for nine more years. It also would reduce the roughly $450 billion the Pentagon still owes under sequestration with $150 billion in additional cuts.
And it also would delay those proposed cuts until 2019. That’s an old defense budgeting trick that means Obama essentially is giving lawmakers five budget cycles during which to replace them or void any future legislative language ordering them.
Gordon Adams, who ran defense budgeting for the Clinton White House, told Defense News last month that any proposed cut made that many years in advance is unlikely to ever occur.
But that is not good enough for congressional Republican budget hawks and interventionists.
“In the ensuing weeks, the situation in Syria became more volatile, we are in a stand-off with North Korea, and we appear to be opening a North African front in the war on terror,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said.
“In other words, we are already adding to what we have asked our military to do while the president cuts their resources,” McKeon said. “Now, with no assessment of strategic impact, the president has proposed yet another arbitrary cut of $120 billion from the military.
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, hit Obama for a budget plan that “fails to exhibit the needed leadership of a commander in chief to adequately address our escalating threats abroad.
“This budget is symbolic of the president’s last four years in office and his failure to address the unprecedented resource challenges facing our military,” Inhofe added.
During a recent interview with the radio arm of Newsmax.com, Inhofe said the Obama administration’s 2014 military spending blueprint would continue the president’s goal of “disarming” the military.
While GOP defense budget hawks slammed the Obama administration’s 2014 military spending request for being too small, Republicans leaders were blasting the president for proposing to spend too much.
“The president’s budget never comes to balance. ... The federal government has spent more than what it has brought in 55 of the last 60 years,” House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday.
“Now think about this, you can’t continue to go on like this. That’s why we came forward with a plan that will balance the budget over the next 10 years,” Boehner said. “We believe strongly that it is time for Washington to deal with its spending problem.”
Standing under a large placard with the #BalancedBudget Twitter hashtag, Boehner, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and other top Republicans told reporters they want Obama to submit a new plan that lays out a plan to balance the federal budget in 10 years.
Boehner said the sequestration cuts “are here to stay” unless a Congress and the White House can pass a sweeping fiscal deal. And he made clear that package should be made via more federal cuts.
It is unclear how the Pentagon budget could grow, as the McKeon-Inhofe wing of the GOP desire, under such a plan given its size.
Even some longtime pro-defense lawmakers in powerful posts are calling for additional big federal spending cuts.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., called Obama’s 2014 federal budget “overstuffed with spending and tax increases that will continue to hinder economic growth.
“Unfortunately, it is simply an anticlimactic political exercise, containing ‘par for the course’ policies at a time when we need a real, substantial change in how government manages the nation’s finances,” Rogers said.
The Obama federal spending plan appears to target Senate Republicans, whom Obama is courting as both sides search for the kind of $1 trillion (or larger) sweeping fiscal package that would replace the sequestration cuts with other measures.
Since 2011, Washington has enacted over $2 trillion in deficit-reduction measures. Obama is proposing $1.8 trillion more in a mixed bag of new cuts, entitlement reforms and new taxes. Many Republicans, especially in the House, want to hit the same mark just through more cuts — putting the $526 billion Pentagon budget in the cross hairs almost by default.
Obama dined with a dozen Senate Republicans in early March, a meeting both sides hailed as highly constructive. On Wednesday night, Obama will host another group of Senate Republicans at the White House.
To help garner their support for a grand bargain deal, Obama is proposing over $700 billion in entitlement program cuts.
Democratic lawmakers offered sometimes-tepid support for Obama’s budget plan.
“The president’s request moves us in the right direction,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. “I do agree with the president that we need a balanced approach to end sequester. However, there are specifics in the president’s plan around earned benefits about which I have serious concerns.”
Hours before his Senate colleagues will dine at the White House, Cantor acknowledged “there are some things in the [Obama] budget ... that, frankly, we can find some agreement on.”
Cantor said Republicans want major Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reforms because the party believes all are “on path to bankruptcy.” House Republicans believe Obama’s plan would hold any changes to those programs “hostage to more tax hikes.”
This point underscores the biggest hurdle — as it has been since 2011 — to replacing the sequestration cuts with other measures to pare the deficit: a bipartisan agreement on taxes and entitlement reforms.
And while the GOP defense hawks and leaders appear to disagree on the military portion of the party’s desire to shrink annual government spending, they lined up in lock step Wednesday to urge Obama to embrace deeper cuts to domestic entitlement programs. Boehner said Obama has “backtracked on some of his entitlement reforms that were in conversations that we had a year and a half ago.”
And Inhofe said, “it’s time this president finally confronts the true cause of our growing and unsustainable debt, which is his unsustainable growth in mandatory spending and unbridled domestic spending.
“Until then, this [budget] proposal only continues his unfortunate history of saddling the men and women of our military with disproportionate and illogical budget cuts that drastically undermine the readiness and capabilities they need to operate in an increasingly dangerous world,” Inhofe said.
Rogers echoed Cantor, Boehner and Inhofe.
“In order to have a successful long-term budget solution, the president must come to the table with more than what he has put forward today.
“Mandatory, autopilot spending on entitlement programs — the driver of our deficits and the root of our spending problem — must be substantially reformed to bring down costs, not just given a passing nod,” Rogers said.
“This, combined with the president’s proposed tax increases, will only perpetuate the nation’s deficits and debt, taking the nation further away from a balanced budget, financial stability, and economic growth.”
McKeon said the military eventually would be hindered by Obama’s proposed $100 billion defense cut.
“What we can say with certainty is that the fight will come,” the HASC chairman said. “By levying more cuts on the military, the president has decided that a future generation of Americans won’t have what they need on that day.”