WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a 2016 budget blueprint that contains a defense plan in stark contrast with a proposal crafted by their House counterparts.
The GOP-run Senate Budget Committee's spending resolution would keep the military's base funding at existing budget caps. That means congressional defense authorizers and appropriators would have , should the plan pass both chambers, $499 billion to work with.
The Senate panel also is proposing $58 billion for the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund, a controversial war-funding account many in Washington consider something of a "slush fund."
"We hope the committees will pursue a legislative agenda consistent with this budget resolution," a Republican Budget Committee aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters WednesdayTuesday.
But just what the final budget resolution might look like — and if there even will be a final version that passes both chambers — is in doubt.
That's because the resolutions crafted by Senate Budget panel Chairman Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., have significant differences.
That's especially true on the plans' national defense sections.
On Tuesday, Price proudly held up a copy of his plan that, among other things, would give defense authorizers and appropriators around $590 billion after sequestration is factored in when they craft their annual Pentagon bills.
Price would also adhere to the spending caps, while also proposing to give the Pentagon an OCO fund above $90 billion by adding $40 billion to the Obama administration's $50.9 billion war funding request.
The Senate panel is sticking with the $499 billion base budget figure for next year. It also is proposing $58 billion for war funding, for a total of $557 billion in 2016 after sequestration.
"We are at the BCA caps from '16 through '21," the Senate Budget aide said, referring to the 2011 Budget Control Aact. That much-maligned — but still in place — law established put in place domestic and defense spending caps and led the way to the sequester method of adhering to them.
Beyond that, the Senate GOP plan proposes defense budget boosts beginning in 2017 of 2.5 percent annually, reaching $651.4 billion in 2025.
The Obama administration requested $561 billion for national defense, $38 billion above spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The administration also is seeking $50.9 billion for the OCO overseas contingency operations (OCO) account. That totals would be a total of $611.9 billion, but it ignores sequestration.
The Senate aide said the committee's leadership hopes to forge a conference agreement with the House Budget panel "by April 15," allowing the authorizing and appropriations committees to start their work with solid department-specific funding levels.
The Senate panel does propose a "deficit-neutral reserve fund" that could be used "for investments in national defense provided the spending is offset over the 10-year window," according to a summary of its budget resolution.
The idea is to have the fund in place, should a plan emerge to replace the defense sequester cuts, "that could get 60 votes in the Senate," the Republican aide explained.
Senate Democrats, who are in position to block the resolution if it requires a 60-vote threshold, are expected to immediately reject it.
Charts accompanying the Senate GOP spending plan show major cuts to domestic mandatory entitlement programs, which are important to Democrats.
The GOP aide told reporters the committee targeted those programs for cuts because, so far, they have been immune to the BCA caps and sequestration.
"That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone," the GOP aide said. "That's where the problem is."
But Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has said for weeks that Democrats would oppose any budget resolution that would gut domestic programs or give defense more funding at their expense.
Since the House plan would inflate the war fund by doing just that, the lower chamber's bill would likely be dead in the Senate.
"Given the fact that we have tens of millions of Americans struggling to keep their heads above water economically, at the very least, there has to be an equal increase in non-defense, as well," Sanders said Tuesday.
"I think it's a bad idea," he said of the House plan.
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., took to the Senate floor to call the notion of hitting the domestic programs "not responsible governance."
"They're relying on transparent tricks to hide their refusal to protect our military from sequestration and budget cuts," Reid said of the House plan's inflated war fund. "Yet Republicans say of their own budget plan, 'We do not rely on gimmicks or creative accounting to balance our budget,' the definition of a gimmick is 'a concealed, devious aspect or feature of something as a plan or a deal.'
"Well, we have a perfect example of a gimmick in the Republican budget that the House is working on," Reid said. "It sounds like a gimmick to me."