WASHINGTON: If you want to know just how fractured the Republican Party is, even in the relatively staid Senate, just look at today’s bipartisan vote knocking down Sen. John McCain’s amendment to add $18 billion in defense spending to the National Defense Authorization Act.
The vote, technically a cloture motion, saw 11 Republicans voting nay, four of them appropriators: Lamar Alexander (appropriator), Thad Cochran (appropriator), Bob Corker, Mike Enzi, Jeff Flake, Chuck Grassley, Dean Heller, Mark Kirk (appropriator), James Lankford (appropriator), Mike Lee, and Rand Paul.
McCain, who really does not like to lose, issued this statement after losing the vote:
“Today’s vote put the lives of our men and women in uniform at greater risk. Our senior military commanders have been increasingly dire in their warnings about the grave impact of arbitrary budget cuts on our military and our national security. Those that chose to ignore those warnings will have to answer for the consequences.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, sometimes described as Sen. McCain’s twin, poured scorn on fiscal conservatives and senior appropriators who opposed the amendment with a characteristically quotable quote. “Nobody at Heritage Action is going to Iraq or Syria to fight this war,” Graham said.
Graham probably got his Heritages confused. Heritage Action says don’t know what Sen. Graham was talking about. But here’s how the Heritage Foundation, who appear to be the culprits, weighed in on the amendment:
“There is one problem with the McCain amendment—the defense funding increase does not come with cuts to other parts of the federal budget that are less important. To reinvest in our armed forces while being fiscally responsible, defense funding should be increased and other parts of the budget should be decreased.”
An ordinary person might read that and shrug their shoulders, missing the enormous gap between the two factions that now largely define the GOP on Capitol Hill. Sen. Rand Paul, Jeff Flake and other Senate Republican fiscal and budget hawks oppose increased defense spending either because they oppose any increase in federal spending or because, in Paul’s case, they are neo-isolationists specifically out to cut defense.
The House Armed Services Committee used its own gimmick to boost spending by $18 billion. The White House has threatened to veto the House version of the bill largely because of the $18 billion addition.
For a broader view of the fractured state of the Republican Party on national security issues — especially spending — look at the flaccid document House Speaker Paul Ryan released today. The document, which was created with the help of a committee of senior GOP national security leaders (never a good sign), contains virtually nothing specific and certainly nothing new. (One Republican saw it earlier this week and found it “weak.”) Most of it centers on homeland security and counter-terrorism and sounds suspiciously like a campaign document.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump got briefed today by the Aerospace Industries Association. We got no details about who was in the room with Trump nor any defense industry policy areas that were discussed other than a suggestion to look at the campaign briefings prepared for public purview by the lobby group. We did learn that Hillary Clinton’s team should soon receive a similar brief. No date set yet.