WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and key Senate Democrats on Wednesday slammed a Republican-concocted plan to offset defense-spending limits by inflating a war fund.

House and Senate GOP leaders' decision to inflate the Obama administration's $50.9 billion war-fund request to $89 billion is a "gimmick," says Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat and ranking member of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the full committee's ranking Democrat, said the Republican budget plan the Senate approved Tuesday could plunge the chamber back into the partisan stalemate that has plagued the Obama era.

Mikulski, chairwoman of the full panel last session, predicted if Republicans insist on crafting a department-specific spending bill that adheres to their budget resolution, it would trigger "more gridlock and confrontation" for the congressional appropriations committees.

Complete coverage of the 2016 budget

Eager to pass a 2016 budget resolution to show voters they are capable of governing while they control both chambers, House and Senate Republican leaders decided to include the additional war funding to secure the votes of defense hawks. But the move has angered members on the left and right — and senior Pentagon officials even oppose the tactic.

Carter's bluntness was amped up a bit Wednesday as he voiced his opposition to the Republican OCO plan.

He told the subpanel the account is "meant to fund the incremental, temporary costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere."

The secretary was appreciative that the GOP budget blueprint "clearly recognizes that the budget total we've requested is needed." But he quickly added "the avenue it takes is just as clearly a road to nowhere."

Carter reminded senators that President Barack Obama intends to veto any spending bills that factor in spending caps first etched into law by the 2011 Budget Control Act, as well as any that swell defense coffers but not domestic ones.

And that places any bills with the GOP's inflated war account squarely in the crosshairs.

"So if we don't come together and find a different path by fall, when a new budget is needed, it will put our department and our troops in an all too familiar and very difficult position," Carter told the panel.

"We will yet again have to make very hasty and drastic decisions to adjust to the failure to have an adequate DoD budget — decisions that none of us want to be made," he said. "The Joint Chiefs and I are concerned that if our congressional committees continue to advance this idea and don't explore alternatives, then we'll all be left holding the bag."

(If 2016 follows the last few years, notably, it would be congressional appropriators who would make decisions to adhere to the spending caps.)

By "alternatives," Carter was alluding to a sequel to the 2012 "Ryan-Murray" fiscal deal that provided two years of partial relief from the defense and domestic spending caps.

It was negotiated by the then-chairs of the House and Senate Budget panels, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. A Ryan-Murray II, which some members say they're working on, would do the same. Such a bill could emerge this fall, lawmakers say.

"Today, I hope we can come together for a longer-term, multi-year agreement that provides the budget stability we need by locking in defense and non-defense budget levels consistent with the president's [federal budget] request," Carter said. "I pledge my personal support to this effort, as well as the support of the entire staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and I would like to work with each of you, as well as other leaders and members in Congress, toward this end."

Without such a deal, Carter says Pentagon officials would be forced to "have to change the shape, and not just the size, of our military — significantly affecting parts of our defense strategy."

But passage of a cap-busting deal would mean "we can build a force of the future that's powerful enough to underwrite our strategy and show resolve to friends and potential foes alike."

"A force that's equipped with bold new technology and ideas, able to lead in cutting-edge capabilities in cyber and space," Carter said. "A force that's lean and efficient throughout this enterprise; that continues to attract and inspire new generations to contribute to our mission."

Twitter: @bennettjohnt

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