Tags: Democrats | GOP | defense spending

Dems: Increase Domestic Spending, Then We'll Support Troops

Thursday, 11 June 2015 01:38 PM

Democrats in Congress are raising the risk of a U.S. government shutdown this year as the latest spending standoff focuses on a high-stakes target: the annual Defense Department policy bill, usually backed by large majorities.

Democrats are using the bill authorizing funds for military troop levels and equipment to argue for an agreement to increase spending on domestic programs above budget limits Congress enacted in 2011.

Republicans say President Obama has drawn a politically perilous line by threatening to veto the defense measure.

“At a time of grave threats to our nation, these Democrat leaders think it’s a good idea to hold brave servicemen and servicewomen hostage to partisan demands for more waste at the IRS and bigger congressional office budgets for themselves,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Wednesday on the Senate floor in Washington.

A two-year, bipartisan government spending agreement expires Sept. 30. At that point, automatic spending cuts Congress enacted in 2011 would take effect -- equally affecting defense and non-defense programs -- unless lawmakers agree on a new plan.

Obama and congressional Democrats say the shrinking federal budget deficit means there’s room to spend. They oppose Republicans’ decision to use emergency war funds to circumvent the 2011 limits on defense spending.

Democrats say they will oppose the annual government spending bills unless funding is increased. They contend that Republicans’ refusal to negotiate on that issue is setting Congress on course for a possible shutdown later this year.

“It appears to me from what the Republicans are doing that we’re headed for another shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Do they desire another closed government? I hope not. But it appears that’s where we are headed.”

The Senate this week is considering the House-passed defense authorization bill, H.R. 1735. Members voted 46-51 on Tuesday, mostly along party lines, to defeat a Democratic amendment that would bar using emergency war funds to exceed limits on routine defense spending unless Congress also used the emergency funds to increase domestic programs.

"Washington Democrats are doing all they can to block this pay raise for our troops," House Speaker John Boehner said. "Their plan is to block, filibuster, veto everything – starting with a pay raise for our troops – in order to extract more funding for the IRS and the EPA. Now, if they don’t get what they want, Democrats appear willing to shut down the government.

"What this comes down to is real simple: Do Democrats support our troops, or don’t they? Do Democrats put our troops first, or do they put the IRS and the EPA first?"

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Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, has called the use of war-fighting funds an “off-budget gimmick.”

Though Democrats lost Tuesday’s vote, they showed that they may be able to block action at a later stage, when 60 votes may be needed to advance the defense bill. They also demonstrated they have more than enough support to sustain a presidential veto.

Because the military policy bill has broad backing among Republicans, Democrats are trying to use it as leverage to boost spending on domestic programs that Republicans are more eager to cut.

“This is a risky strategy,” said Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who characterized Democrats as “holding this bill hostage for more domestic spending.”

Democrats appear to be wagering that the public would again blame Republicans for a fiscal crisis. After the 17-day partial government shutdown in October 2013 over Republicans’ demand to delay and defund Obamacare, Republicans’ support fell in public opinion polls.

Republicans counter that Democrats are painting themselves into a politically challenging corner by forcing another showdown over spending to protect agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency at the expense of members of the military.

The Obama administration has threatened a veto of the Senate version of the military policy measure, S. 1376, sponsored by Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

The president won’t support a budget that locks in the 2011 spending cuts, “and he will not fix defense without fixing non- defense spending,” Obama’s budget office said in a June 2 statement.

McCain said last week that Democrats should fight over spending limits later, on the defense spending bill, rather than on the policy measure.

Democrats have said they will renew the fight then.

“Our big fight is going to be on the appropriations bill,” said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, declining to say whether Democrats will be able to block the defense policy bill.

John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said it would be “political suicide” for Democrats to oppose the defense spending bill, which is scheduled for a committee vote Thursday.

“If they try to block the defense appropriations bill they’re committing political suicide. They just don’t know it yet,” Cornyn told reporters Wednesday at the Capitol. “They’re taking a hostage they can’t shoot.”

© Copyright 2018 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Democrats in Congress are raising the risk of a U.S. government shutdown this year as the latest spending standoff focuses on a high-stakes target: the annual Defense Department policy bill, usually backed by large majorities.
Democrats, GOP, defense spending
Thursday, 11 June 2015 01:38 PM
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