McCain: Senators 'must choose a side' on military spending
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 20, 2016
WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain confirmed Thursday that he will attempt to increase military spending by $17 billion despite federal budget caps and a looming presidential veto.
The Arizona Republican, who is chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, said he plans to force fellow lawmakers to vote on the hike next week when the Senate considers the annual defense budget. McCain said he will offer the proposal as an amendment.
The House backed a $16-billion increase for the military on Wednesday as part of its $602-billion National Defense Authorization Act, defying spending limits negotiated by Congress last fall and a White House veto threat. House lawmakers plan to pay for more troops, training and equipment using the Islamic State war fund, meaning military operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan would run out of money in April.
“I do not know whether or not this amendment will succeed, but the Senate must have this debate. And senators must choose a side,” McCain said during a speech at a Washington, D.C. think tank.
Republicans and many Democrats in Congress believe more military spending is necessary, saying the services are becoming worn out due to high tempos and an increasingly dangerous world.
But lawmakers are grappling with spending limits, including caps on the military, imposed by Republican fiscal conservatives since 2011. A block of House lawmakers have fended off repeal of the five-year-old law and remain focused on forcing a reduction in the national debt, much to the frustration of McCain and other war hawks who want increases for the armed services.
“In short, as threats grow and the operational demands on our military increase, defense spending in constant dollars is decreasing. How does this make any sense?” McCain said.
Congress was able to negotiate a deal last fall to raise the spending limits on the military and domestic programs for just two years – and avoid much deeper across-the-board cuts mandated by the 2011 law.
The fate of the agreement is now unclear. The House defense budget passed Wednesday deviates from it by dramatically increasing money for defense while leaving the caps in place for other federal spending.
House lawmakers found the additional $16 billion by going to the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, a pot of money covering counter-terrorism operations and military offensives abroad. The plan assumes lawmakers can cobble together new spending midway through next year to keep the wars going.
A similar tactic resulted in a rare veto of the defense budget approved by Congress in October. On Monday, the White House issued another veto threat, saying the House budget plan endangers U.S. servicemembers fighting overseas by only providing a partial year of war funding.
The Senate has so far rejected the House approach and stuck to the spending agreement, which was used to set the dollar amounts in the Obama administration’s proposed defense budget released in February.
McCain said he hopes to revisit that position with a recorded vote during debate on the NDAA.
“The Senate NDAA, at present, conforms to last year’s budget agreement,” McCain said. “But when the legislation comes to the floor next week, I will offer an amendment to increase defense spending above the current spending caps, reverse short-sighted cuts to modernization, restore military readiness, and give our servicemembers the support they need and deserve.”