Two Senate Republican defense hawks are joining House rebels in trying to rewrite the party's budget plans to add tens of billions of dollars to ease deficit-driven cuts to the military.
Thursday's move comes after the House Budget Committee abruptly called off a vote aimed at tamping down an uprising among pro-Pentagon lawmakers by removing restrictions on additional defense funding that's aimed at matching President Barack Obama's $38 billion increase for the department. The party's anti-spending wing was pushing back.
The failure of the House panel to approve its budget as scheduled was unprecedented in recent memory and could delay floor debate into April. Conservative Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., appeared out of synch with GOP leaders seeking to placate defense hawks.
The developments arrived as Republicans in both the House and the Senate were trying to advance budget blueprints designed to show how they would carry out promises to balance the budget within a decade without raising taxes.
Both plans rely on deep but often unspecified cuts to the social safety net that advocates for the poor say could drive millions of people from programs like Medicaid and food stamps.
Republicans counter that balancing the budget is a moral imperative and that controlling Washington's spiraling spending will strengthen the economy and preserve retirement programs like Medicare for decades.
"The budget proposal we are considering here today is a plan to make Washington more efficient, more effective, and more accountable to those we serve — to create genuine opportunity and a healthier economy," House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said Wednesday.
The cuts aren't going anywhere so long as Obama occupies the Oval Office. And Republicans aren't showing much interest in advancing them beyond the hypothetical confines of Congress' arcane budget process, which involves first passing a nonbinding budget measure and then following up with binding legislation to implement it.
Senate Republicans, already eying the 2016 elections, balked at a politically sensitive House plan to turn health care coverage for seniors into a voucher-like program for those who enroll beginning in 2024.
But most of the focus behind the scenes was on efforts by defense hawks to add to the Pentagon's budget, whose core would essentially be frozen for the third year in a row in the fiscal year beginning in October unless lawmakers intervene.
Procedural obstacles prevent Republicans from simply increasing the budget for defense as Obama recommended in his budget, financed by tax increases and spending cuts elsewhere. The GOP solution is to pad war accounts that aren't bound by tight budget limits set by the return of automatic cuts known as sequestration.
The House plan, stalled over the fight between defense hawks and tea party forces, would add $36 billion to Obama's $58 billion request for overseas military and diplomatic efforts in the war against terror. To mollify the GOP's sizable pro-defense bloc, GOP leaders agreed during the day to drop restrictions that threatened the release of more than half of the additional war money. But the plan stalled in the Budget panel.
In the Senate, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., were poised to try to rewrite the budget to add war funding in hopes of matching Obama's request for a $38 billion Pentagon increase. The original GOP plan, written by new Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and released Wednesday afternoon, stuck to Obama's war funding request and immediately came under attack.
"The Senate budget as introduced fails to prioritize our national defense after years of damaging cuts to our nation's military," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential presidential candidate.
Successful action on the budget would pave the way for a veto confrontation over his signature health care law since a filibuster-proof measure to repeal much of it could make its way through the Senate.
"Today we begin the monumental task of confronting our nation's chronic overspending and exploding debt," Enzi said. "Our fiscal outlook is grim and has been ignored for far too long. But we have a profound moral responsibility to help hardworking taxpayers see the true picture of our country's finances."
Obama immediately assailed the GOP plan. Claiming credit for the improving economy, he said Republicans offer "a path to prosperity for those who have already prospered." Reprising a criticism he leveled in his winning 2012 campaign against Republican Mitt Romney, the president said in Cleveland that the GOP budget "doubles down on trickle-down."
It will be weeks or months — if then — before Republicans can turn their nonbinding blueprints into legislation and send it to the White House for Obama's signature or veto.
Before that, they will concentrate on pushing the rival budgets through the two houses. Next, they will try to agree on a compromise that they concede will stand as a test of their ability to govern.
© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.