WASHINGTON — House Republicans are mulling a budget plan that punts a major defense hike to the next administration.
Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., at a House Republican caucus meeting Thursday, indicated he is hammering out a budget blueprint that includes $574 billion for base budget requirements for all of national defense, but did not set a definite number for the wartime overseas contingency operations account.
To wrangle fiscal conservatives’ support for a budget plan which adheres to the two-year bipartisan budget deal struck last year, GOP leaders are touting stand-alone legislation that would cut $30 billion in mandatory spending. Many fiscal conservatives have threatened to oppose the budget resolution over the plan's $1 trillion fiscal 2017 discretionary spending unless there are offsetting cuts.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said after the meeting he believed OCO would be set under “current law,” meaning the $59 billion figure contested by defense hawks, who said Thursday morning that the exact figure for OCO was still in play.
Speaking in Seattle, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter indicated concern that the bipartisan budget act could be broken on the Hill, even if the intentions are to help boost defense spending.
"I really hope the bipartisan budget agreement sticks," Carter said at a breakfast event. "That's important."
Carter added he was "grateful" for the stability provided by the BBA, and appealed to Congress to maintain the course in order to avoid wasteful budget upheaval.
"We can't go every fiscal year with chaos, continuing resolutions — that's as money waster, by the way," Carter said. "So the very people who are suspicious of how the government's money is spent, that will is thwarted by that kind of turbulence."
On Thursday morning, GOP leadership whips were counting votes to see if they had the 218 needed to pass the Budget Committee’s plan.
A lead defense hawk, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said there would be “flexibility for appropriators with respect to overseas contingency operations funding, with the expectation that the next president would come forward with an emergency supplemental that would continue our efforts fighting ISIS, [in] Afghanistan and deterring the Russians.”
“I think everyone will find this to be a very pro national security budget,” said Turner, the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee chair.
“Right now we are waiting for confirmation from the budget committee that those are the numbers, and that flexibility is stated in the document, and at that point I think the defense hawks will support it,” Turner said. “It’s a great foundation for the conference to move forward adopting the budget.”
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said Thursday morning he believed that an agreement was close, and that on defense, “there is a commitment for level funding and stability.”
In a letter to Price made public earlier this month, 84 Republicans asked for a budget plan that contains $574 billion in base budget requirements, with some funded through the base budget and some through the OCO budget. They asked for $551 billion in the base budget and another $77 billion in the OCO budget.
Of the $59 billion for OCO that the president requested in OCO, the Pentagon has acknowledged that $5 billion was for base budget requirements, so adding another $18 billion in OCO for base budget requirements would prove the extra $23 billion.
House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said Thursday morning that discussions on OCO were ongoing. The Budget Committee “has done the right thing on the base part of the budget,” by adhering to the $574 billion figure, he said.
Since the Pentagon unveiled its fiscal 2017 budget request of $583 billion, which included $59 billion for OCO, Thornberry and other Republicans have argued the OCO figure should be interpreted as a minimum, to be increased as much as $23 billion in light of global threats.
“The problem is that the president has asked for more military activities and did not ask for more money to pay for those activities, and if the president’s not going to keep the agreement as he should, what do we do about it,” Thornberry said.
Aaron Mehta in Seattle with Carter contributed to this report.