WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats' budget point man expects "fundamental differences" with his GOP colleagues, and vows to fight attempts to increase defense spending.
Sen. Bernie Sanders is listed a political independent, but he caucuses with and has, as he put it Friday, "a close relationship" with the chamber's Democratic leadership team. And he made clear the party will fight likely Republican attempts to boost annual Pentagon budgets at the expense of domestic programs.
He comments also gave no new hope to those in the US defense sector hopeful that Congress will pass another budget package that raises defense spending caps to ease sequestration blow.
"Why am I not shocked that in addition to wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare as we know it, cut education, cut nutrition programs for hungry kids," Sanders told reporters, "their other brilliant idea is to increase military spending at a time when we spend more money than almost the rest of the world combined."
The new Budget Committee ranking member says "no one [disputes] that there's huge amounts of waste within the Department of Defense, that time after time, you have these contractors coming in promising to do a weapon systems for X dollars, then come in billions and billions of dollars higher with huge cost overruns."
And he sent a message to pro-Pentagon Republicans intent on using cuts to programs like Medicaid and Medicare to give the military more money.
"The idea that we would allow for significant more spending in defense at the same time they want to cut education and nutrition and health care to me is something that the vast majority of American people don't agree with," Sanders said. "I certainly don't."
Sanders will be part of talks about a 2016 federal budget resolution — but ultimately, that measure will be crafted by the GOP chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia and Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming.
"I think there will be some fundamental disagreements," Sanders said, adding that will be doubly true if Republicans are hellbent on deep cuts to domestic programs.
Any budget resolution moved via regular rules would need 60 votes in the Senate to end debate, making his comments about defense spending and domestic programs telling.
He also signaled anew that Democrats want to pass major corporate tax reform, saying major US firms are stashing around $100 billion in taxable revenue offshore.
Though some in the defense sector are hopeful for a new budget deal like the one passed in late 2013 by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sanders did not call for such a deal.
Nor did he directly address the prospects for one when asked, saying merely he did not want "to speculate" because "I don't know what will happen."