Rep. Hunter: Not a Win for Defense Hawks
WASHINGTON — The US House approved a $3.8 trillion budget blueprint that includes $20 billion extra in war funds sought by defense hawks.
Asked if the vote is a major victory for House defense hawks, Armed Services Committee member Rep. Duncan Hunter replied: "No."
"I think it's as things should be," Hunter told reporters during the budget vote series Wednesday. "It's still not the best way to do so" because the additional military budgetary authority is in the war account and not the base budget.
Hunter said the budget blueprint and its construct should be viewed "in the context of one year." He added: "Next year we'll look at it in the context of next year."
In a statement, the White House criticized House Republicans for voting "in favor of locking in draconian sequestration cuts."
The measure, which passed 228-199, was one of several 2016 federal spending resolutions that hit the floor Wednesday afternoon, including a Budget Committee-approved version that did not include the additional overseas contingency operations (OCO) funds.
When House members left town last Thursday, defense hawks, led by House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, were told to expect an amendment this week that would take the war fund to $96 billion.
Both the resolution the full chamber approved Wednesday and the committee-passed version would give the congressional defense panels $499 billion to work with as they craft their annual policy and spending bills. That's the level mandated by spending caps enshrined in the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Notably, the extra $20 billion in war funds would not have to be offset elsewhere in the budget — a major win for the defense caucus. GOP deficit hawks had pushed for an offset requirement.
The version that passed the full House would, if adopted in a final compromise form with the Senate, provide $96 billion in OCO budget authority.
A Senate version of the budget resolution expected to receive a final simple majority vote late Thursday night or early Friday morning contains a provision for an $89 billion war fund, though hawks must kill another provision in that bill requiring a 60-vote threshold to surpass the administration's OCO level.
The Obama administration had requested $534.3 billion, and $50.9 billion in war funds, for the Defense Department, a total of $585.3 billion.
The House-passed budget resolution proposes $568 billion in base and war budgetary authority.
Turner last week told reporters hawks would not support any resolution "that doesn't fully fund defense."
GOP leaders, including Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, fell in behind the version with the extra defense funds. That means Wednesday's vote result was a win for leadership. So, too, did Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.
The path was not without risk. Leadership decided to put both versions on the floor for up-or-down votes. They turned to a little-known tactic, known as the "Queen of the Hill" rule, under which the version of a bill that receives the most votes passes the chamber.
The chamber also shot down a Democratic budget alternative on Wednesday.
"I think that the way we're considering all of these budgets, both Democrat and Republican budgets, is frankly the most democratic way you can consider it," Boehner said Tuesday. "The budget alternative that gets the most votes is what goes to final pass."
GOP leaders needed the defense hawks' 70 or so votes because the budget resolution contains "reconciliation" instructions. House and Senate Republican leaders want to use that complicated process to attack parts of President Obama's landmark healthcare law.
"This is about reconciliation to get to Obamacare repealing and unwinding," Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute, said last Sunday on the "Defense News with Vago Muradian" television program. "So they need the defense hawks to sit down and be quiet."
Eaglen, a former Senate defense aide, called the extra OCO funding "a play action fake."
"The … extra war spending, that's going to be the ceiling. That's not how much money that's actually going to be passed," she said. "The defense hawks are going to quickly learn this is a deal with the devil and the money is not going to be there at the end of the year."
Hunter disagreed, saying defense appropriators and authorizers will simply "mark it" — Hill speak for allocating to items normally in the base Pentagon budget.
"We're going to change the way it's used," Hunter said. "It's OCO but it's not going to be OCO."