WASHINGTON: The battle lines were drawn today between Republicans and Democrats over the $18 billion Sen. John McCain wants to add to the defense budget in an amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
You want it? Then add a matching $18 billion to domestic spending, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the powerhouse appropriator countered today on the Senate floor. “There are clear and present dangers to the people of the United States that are met by other agencies,” Mikulski argued on the Senate floor today.
This all boils down to that revolting, creepy legislative parasite known as the Budget Control Act, commonly referred to as sequestration. The White House and Senate Democrats argue that, if the BCA budget caps are going to be cracked, then it must be fairly done, namely by giving money to both defense and to the civilian side of the US government.
The soft-spoken, West Point graduate who leads the Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, argued on the floor that “it’s long past time to replace the senseless sequestration with a balanced approach that keeps America safe and strong at home and abroad, and Senator McCain and I both believe that sequestration has to be eliminated.” OK, everybody can agree with that, right?
But the Reed-Mikulski amendment “would keep the pressure on for a permanent solution to the budget caps and sequestration by treating defense and non-defense discretionary funding equally. We can’t afford to miss any opportunity to make progress on sequestration relief.”
Ah, but the Republicans — especially those on the Senate Armed Services Committee — have shown no interest in trying to hammer out a fundamental deal on sequestration. (Anyway, that’s really job of the parties’ hyper-partisan leaders.) Especially not in an election year when they’ve come up with the clever ploy of hammering Democrats for denying funds they say are needed to improve readiness eroded over the last 15 years of war.
But Reed and Mikulski argued that the $18 billion for civilian spending would, in Reed’s words, “help address security challenges facing our nation that do not fall within the purview of the Department of Defense – including funds to implement the integrated campaign plan to counter ISIL, enhance federal cyber security, and provide additional resources for border security, first responders, counter narcotics, refugee assistance, Zika prevention and treatment, and infrastructure security and vulnerabilities.”
They even dedicated $2 billion of it for non-defense efforts to counter the terrorists known as Daesh, aka the Islamic State.
But House Republicans won’t even move on Zika funding, and that’s a disease that can kill and maim their own constituents.
My call on this: the NDAA will get vetoed, It will be rebuilt after the veto and signed, just as happened last year. Both sides will have been able to posture to their respective bases, but know that they must pass a defense policy bill or lose what tiny amount of credibility they retain, not to mention the influence they have over Pentagon policies.