WASHINGTON — In a rare move, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith announced Wednesday he will oppose the panel's 2016 Pentagon policy bill.
The measure includes a war fund with nearly $40 billion added that essentially are base-budget funds. But since Republican congressional leaders are opposed to equal domestic-spending hikes, Smith and other House Democrats say they will vote no later this week when the chamber votes on its 2016 NDAA.
"Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the  Budget Control Act caps are extremely damaging and as long as Congress fails to enact a solution, a variety of key national priorities will continue to suffer," Smith said in a statement. "I understand that finding a compromise to remove the caps has been elusive, but that does not justify the use of gimmicks to protect one part of the budget, and shortchange other portions that are vitally important to the future of our country.
"Even worse, this short-term work-around does not enable the Department of Defense to undertake long term planning or provide the certainty that they can count on such funding in the future," the Washington Democrat added. "I have great respect for Chairman [Mac] Thornberry, but I cannot vote for this bill under these circumstances."
There currently are 433 House members, meaning Thornberry and GOP leaders need 217 votes to pass the NDAA. If every Democrat sides with Smith, Republicans would have enough of their votes to pass the bill.
But a block of conservative spending hawks agree with Smith and Democrats like Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Thornberry and GOP leaders can only lose between 25 and 30 of those members to still pass the bill with no Democratic votes.
Even if it passes, the White House has said President Barack Obama would veto any legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Congress that ups military spending but leaves in place domestic spending caps.
"He's threatened to veto our bill pretty much every year at some stage in the process," Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters Tuesday, downplaying the veto threat. "What we authorized and what he requested are exactly the same."
Obama and congressional Democrats like Smith say the bill fails to check all the national defense boxes.
"Maintaining our national security requires more than a strong military," Smith said. "If we do not have a strong economy, and build a solid foundation for future generations, then we cannot ensure our national security in the long term. If we stop investing in the American people, then we are undermining our national security and cutting short the promise of America.
"Unfortunately, the National Defense Authorization Act sends the message that we are only willing to fulfill half of that promise," Smith said. "Congress is wasting time with this dead-end approach. In the coming months, it is my hope that the House, Senate and president can come together and strike a compromise to remove the budget caps and move forward with a responsible approach to budgeting."
The latter comment was a reference to the prospect of a broader fiscal bill similar to one from late 2012 crafted by then-House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and then-Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. That bill provided two years of relief from spending caps for defense and domestic programs. A Ryan-Murray II bill would do the same.
Members say there are several groups of lawmakers quietly discussing what a Ryan-Murray II deal might look like.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is one of a handful of senators who sit on the Senate Budget and Armed Services committees who are talking about what a cap-busting budget deal might look like. And while it was the chairs of the House and Senate Budget panels who brokered the last deal, Kaine says the calendar means the task would fall on the Appropriations "cardinals" — the panels' chairmen and ranking members — this time.
"At the end of the day, a Ryan-Murray II will probably be done through the appropriations process," Kaine told reporters, "rather than through a budget conference or some separate group."