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GOP Hawks Blast Obama Budget; $26B Wish List Could Be Doomed

Mar. 4, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Winter Storm Brings More Snow To DC Area
The Defense Department's total budget request for fiscal 2015 comes to about $600 billion, when adding a $26 billion wish list and wartime funding to the base budget. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — Republican hawks say US President Barack Obama’s latest military spending request will embolden America’s foes to take aggressive acts, while his Democratic mates offered only tepid support.

Republican lawmakers began panning the fiscal $496 billion Pentagon request before senior Defense Department officials explained the plan in their briefing room.

The request is accompanied by a separate request for $26 billion more for the DoD, part of a $58 billion government-wide wish list that could be tacked on if lawmakers and the White House can agree on a “pay-for.” It also assumes at least $79.4 billion for the winding-down war in Afghanistan.

When totaled, that’s around $600 billion in potential Pentagon funds for fiscal 2015, or $584 billion if the White House wish list idea is shot down, as some lawmakers and analysts predict.

The requested $496 billion base budget is about $400 million less than what the Pentagon got from Congress in fiscal 2014, and would keep the US on pace to spend much more on its military than the next dozen nations combined.

“We must invest in both national & economic security,” the White House Office and Management and Budget (OMB) tweeted. “Building on [the bipartisan] plan, we propose equal investment in both.”

But $494.5 billion just wouldn’t be enough, hawkish Republicans say.

“I share the broad dismay about the shrinking might of the military reflected in this budget. The proposal being delivered today is the result of a hard fought bipartisan compromise,” House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement.

McKeon alleged the only deficit-reduction Republicans and Democrats have locked in during Obama’s tenure has come from the Pentagon’s hide.

“While we cut nearly one fifth of our defense resources, Russia and China are arming at an alarming rate — Russia’s military spending is up roughly 30 percent and China’s has more than doubled in recent years,” McKeon said. “Look at what the consequences of US withdrawal are: instability is spreading, our adversaries are growing bolder, and our security is threatened.

McKeon’s inclusion of Russia in his budget warning comes four days after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine’s Crimea region amid political discord in the former Soviet-era republic. Typically, HASC Republicans have focused such warnings on China’s military build-up.

On Monday, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., also pointed to Obama-era defense cuts in his reaction to the Russian invasion. Inhofe said Obama’s defense budget history “limits our options in Ukraine today.”

“Throughout this administration, I have also warned that if the United States does not maintain a ready and capable military, we would surrender our global influence and leave a vacuum that will be filled by Russia,” Inhofe said.

“I warned this day was coming, and it is here. President Obama’s attempt to seek peace through apologetic diplomacy while defunding and dismantling our military has failed,” he said. “Today our enemies don’t fear us and our allies no longer respect us.”

McKeon went even further, charging the requested $494.5 billion for the base DoD budget would constitute an “immoral” funding level.

“Peace through strength is more than a slogan,” McKeon said. “It is a foundation for securing our own freedom and prosperity.”

Fiscal hawks in both chambers are zeroing in on the $58 billion government-wide wish list, including the DoD’s $26 billion chunk of it.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., fired a shot across the White House’s bow, criticizing Obama’s wish list and signaling the Pentagon won’t get everything — or maybe anything — on its list.

“It is important to remember that it is the Congress, not the White House, that holds the ‘power of the purse’ and will decide where to cut, where to sustain, and where to invest tax dollars to the most benefit of the American people,” Rogers said.

“Not even three months ago, the president signed discretionary spending budget caps into law for two fiscal years,” Rogers said. “It is extremely disappointing that the president’s proposal today blatantly disregards the budget limits for fiscal year 2015 — spending roughly $60 billion in additional funds — and ignores the hard-fought compromise he so recently endorsed. … My committee will abide by the budget caps for fiscal year 2015 put into place by law, which total $1.014 trillion. This funding level will require hard choices and difficult trade-offs between important federal programs — including our national security.”

The sentiment from Senate fiscal hawks was similar, casting doubt on the $26 billion DoD wish list. That is doubly true because officials and lawmakers say the White House likely will include new revenue-raising measures — which Republicans fervently oppose — in its proposed “pay-for” to cover the unfunded $58 billion request.

“The president’s plan spends $791 billion above Ryan-Murray, casually wiping away the newly-established spending limits,” Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Tuesday, referring to the budget resolution negotiated late last year by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“The president’s plan increases spending next year alone by $114 billion, including $56 billion in spending above the Ryan-Murray discretionary caps,” Sessions said. “The president’s plan rejects the very idea of limits. It is the manifesto for a big government, tax-and-spend ideology. … As Washington prospers, workers suffer.”

Last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Defense News the wish list faces an uphill battle because Republicans’ “default” reaction on Obama’s budget and fiscal proposals has been to firmly oppose them.

Levin and other defense-minded lawmakers said other parts of the DoD request — including shipbuilding cuts, the retiring of entire aircraft fleets, shrinking the Army after 13 years at war, and a slew of personnel-benefits cuts — likely will face stiff opposition from Republicans and Democrats.

GOP statements on the 2015 federal budget plan arrived soon after the full government proposal was released. While top Democrats followed suit, most reactions from the president’s party tellingly trickled in. And the prompt Democratic statements were tepid at best.

“The FY-2015 budget and appropriations process offers Congress its best opportunity in years to reject the politics of brinkmanship and crisis management, and instead fulfill our responsibility to invest in our future, create and protect jobs, and support services on which American families rely,” said House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., made clear she, like Rogers, will make the White House work for its unfunded $58 billion request.

“We have a budget agreement for fiscal year 2015, and the Senate Appropriations Committee will adhere to the spending caps in that deal,” she said Tuesday.

For many Democrats, like Mikulski and HASC Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., a top goal is to get rid of the remaining eight rounds of defense and — perhaps more pressing for them — domestic sequestration cuts.

“We … have an investment deficit in America,” Mikulski said. “That’s why I will continue to fight the irresponsible sequestration funding levels we are facing in future years so we can make needed investments in our people and infrastructure.” ■

Email: jbennett@defensenews.com.

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