In a win for defense hawks, the House Budget Committee is set to vote Wednesday night on an amendment that would add $2 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations fund and strike provisions requiring that the money be offset.
After more than a day of uncertainty — Would they add money in the Budget Committee? Would they not? Do it on the floor? In the Rules Committee? — Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee may finally be getting the extra dollars they pushed for.
The Budget Committee is slated to vote during the marathon markup session on Indiana Republican Todd Rokita's amendment that would bring OCO funding up to $96 billion from $94 billion. Defense hawks had warned Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., that the Pentagon spending levels he had been proposing imperiled the resolution's chances for adoption. When Price refused to take the warnings to heart, saying such an amendment couldn't pass out of his committee, the hawks banded together. They threatened to sink the budget on the floor . And in the end, after Majority Whip Steve Scalise and chief deputy whip Patrick T. McHenry contacted Republicans on the panel and proved the amendment could pass, it appears Price gave in.
Of course, adoption of the amendment is not guaranteed. It's unclear whether any Democrat will vote for the amendment. (No Democrat is expected to vote for the budget, either in committee or when it comes to the floor next week.) But without the defense amendment, the budget resolution's adoption seems doubtful.
The amendment is still not ideal for lawmakers frustrated with defense spending caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. But they are willing to compromise, sources told CQ Roll Call, figuring that the extra OCO money was better than nothing.
An earlier agreement seemed to be in place Tuesday night, but by Wednesday morning, plans had changed. Price, who originally didn't want to increase defense spending for fear he would alienate fiscal conservatives, once again suggested that an amendment with the OCO funds couldn't pass out of his committee.
While leaders and members sorted it out, the markup was pushed back. Eventually, they started around 11 a.m., recessing later in the afternoon to allow Republicans on the Budget panel to huddle in the Capitol and discuss a way forward. Meanwhile, Democrats were kept out of the loop, and when Republicans later joined their colleagues back in the hearing room, they were tight-lipped on what decisions, if any, had been made.
Following an afternoon series of votes, CQ Roll Call confronted Price about whether his panel would take up the amendment. He said he couldn't say because they were in the middle of the markup. "And I don't have a clear path as to what our final move will be," he added.
When CQ Roll Call asked him how he felt about Scalise and McHenry going behind his back to check whether committee members would vote for additional money for OCO — after Price told leadership that the votes weren't there — Price said, "We're in the middle of a markup, so that's what I'm focused on."
When CQ Roll Call pressed again on that point, whether he felt any animosity toward leadership, Price wouldn't go there. "As I said, we're in the middle of a markup, so," he said, trailing off.
If the defense amendment is adopted, it perhaps exacerbates an already brewing battle between two competing factions in the House Republican Conference: The defense hawks and the fiscal hawks.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who is not on the Budget Committee, said Wednesday he was already on the fence, given the initial OCO allocation.
"You can't just wave a magic wand and say OCO is going to solve all our problems; in fact, it's gonna make it a lot worse," Mulvaney told reporters. "I would almost rather have discussions about raising taxes than continue to run up the deficit.
"I want to defend the nation," he continued, "but I think if we think it's important to break the current law, then we should pay for it, and not make our kids pay for it. That's the debate we're having right now."
While Republicans debate that topic, Democrats are arguing the entire budget makes irresponsible cuts to domestic spending and uses the OCO account, which is not subject to sequestration, as a slush fund to add money to defense.
"If you're going to go down this road," Budget ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said of adding money to the OCO account, "you should do it in an upfront way. What they're doing is using the war fund account as a slush fund."
"And I actually think it's outrageous that they're playing games with national security funding," Van Hollen told CQ Roll Call Wednesday afternoon. "Do it straight up if you're going to do something like that."
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