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Defense Hawks Fine With Boost in War Account

McCain talks to reporters on Capitol Hill. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Top Senate defense hawks are satisfied with the increased Pentagon spending in the new budget deal, and several Democrats doubt that section will mean trouble for the sweeping package.  

The spending plan, which many senators on Tuesday said they are still reviewing, would boost discretionary spending caps by $50 billion in fiscal 2016 and $30 billion in 2017, with those hikes divided evenly between defense and domestic spending. But it also proposes something Democrats and the Obama administration for months have opposed: About $16 billion more than the $58 billion the White House had requested in 2016 for a Pentagon war account.  

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and other defense hawks have said the military needs more than that amount.  

After being briefed on the deal’s specifics Monday evening, McCain told reporters the overall Pentagon spending level it proposes for this fiscal year is $5 billion lower than he prefers. He concedes, however, "It's the best deal we're likely to get."  

McCain said Tuesday he has spoken to a number of other Senate defense hawks about the Pentagon funding aspects of the plan.  

“They know we can probably adjust to that,” he said of the Senate Armed Services Committee members with whom he has spoken. “They don’t want to, but it’s better than what we were facing.”  

The SASC chairman told reporters he will support the budget deal because “my job is to defend the nation.”  

“Without this adjustment, we put the lives of Americans in uniform at great risk,” McCain said. “And anyone who doesn’t believe that, I’ll be happy to show them the facts.  

At first glance, the use of the Pentagon’s controversial war-funding account known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund appeared a potential stumbling block. That’s because Democrats and the White House for months have dubbed it “irresponsible” and a “gimmick.”  

But on the cusp of a major victory in terms of the increased domestic spending for which they have long pined, Democrats were singing a new tune Tuesday.  

“If you look at the goals we’ve laid out for months, we’ve achieved them,” Senate Democratic Policy Chairman Charles E. Schumer of New York told CQ Roll Call.  

He described those goals as avoiding an across-the-board cut known as sequestration, and a “50-50” split in new government spending. Any lingering concerns he might have had about using the war funding, in part, to secure the GOP hawks’ support in both chambers, appeared tamped down because “it’s matched by non-defense funding.”  

Other Democrats hinted they are not crazy about the war fund’s proposed inflation, but it wouldn’t lead them to vote against the fiscal package.  

“In general, broadly, OCO is bad budget policy, to simply keep extending and expanding the uses of it, and the scale of it,” said Senate Appropriations Committee member Chris Coons, D-Del. “It is my hope that what ultimately gets considered constrains the use of OCO to defense purposes and activities in the … State Department.”

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