WASHINGTON — House Democrats have introduced a “deeming” resolution that sets discretionary spending at $1.5 trillion, but military spending levels were left out amid an intraparty split over the size of the defense budget.
The resolution’s top line is a rough match to President Joe Biden’s budget request, which proposes $769 billion in nondefense spending (a 16 percent increase from enacted levels last year) and $753 billion for national security (a 1.7 percent increase). Republicans say the defense number is too low, and it’s too high for progressive Democrats.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told reporters last week that Democrats are still internally discussing those numbers.
“We have a number of members who find it very difficult to vote on that much [defense spending], but on the other side, the nondefense spending is significantly better than it’s ever been in relation to defense. So I think ultimately we won’t have too much of a problem getting everybody on board with that,” Yarmuth said.
The resolution will let the House Appropriations Committee begin drafting its spending bills in the meantime, before markups begin in the coming weeks.
Separately, House and Senate Democrats are expected to move forward on a budget resolution, which will unlock reconciliation — a process that allows them to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
Democrats see those instructions as a vehicle for Biden’s ambitious American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, which have a combined cost of more than $4 trillion. However, Yarmuth said some Democrats also want it to include immigration reform and an increase of the debt ceiling.
Even if Democrats can launch a filibuster-skirting budget, Senate Republicans say the dynamics in the 50-50 Senate mean the road to a final budget runs through them — and they’d like to get started on high-level talks that include a defense boost sooner, not later.
“They’ve got 50, we’ve got 50. They’re going to have to deal with us on defense — and if they’re going to spend a hell of a lot of money on social programs at the expense of national security, Democrats are going to have trouble,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
At a Senate Budget Committee hearing last week, its top Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the Office of Management and Budget’s acting director, Shalanda Young, much the same thing.
“You know that we’re going to say ‘no’ [to the Biden budget proposal], and I think a lot of Democrats will be uneasy with some of the priorities in this budget — or the lack of priorities in terms of defense,” Graham said.
“The reason I want to beat you up on the budget is I like you and I’m trying to get to where we’re all going to be,” Graham said. “We’re going to be here fairly soon, as appropriators, trying to find a way to pass a budget that our colleagues can support.”
But Young said there are no plans for those talks. The House and Senate “have to work their will” through regular appropriations, and it “has to be a bipartisan process.”
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., predicted talks will drag out with “multiple” stopgap measures to fund the federal government and avoid a government shutdown when funding expires Oct. 1.
After Biden’s talks with the GOP on an infrastructure package collapsed last week, some Democrats said they see no incentive to work with Republicans.
“If we doubled the defense budget, they wouldn’t vote for our budget,” Yarmuth said. “One way or another, we’ll do everything we can to get the entire Biden plan through.”
Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said how funds are spent is important but that he’s skeptical at Republican calls to raise defense.
“If Lindsey wants to spend money on this, how are you going to pay for it? He can’t say: ‘It’s too important, just do it.’ That’s not an answer,” Tester said. “There’s going to be plenty of time to negotiate, and I’m not saying I disagree with Lindsey, but it doesn’t seem like there’s any appetite on the other side to make the books balance.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.