Senate Democrats Block Move to Proceed to Defense Spending Bill

Don't trust GOP to follow through with rest of appropriations process

Democrats like Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski are wary of moving forward on the defense bill because they don’t trust their counterparts to follow through with the rest of the appropriations process. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

For the second time in a week, Senate Democrats united to block the chamber’s consideration of the annual Pentagon spending bill, pushing off until at least September consideration of the massive measure.  

The vote was 55-42 on a motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill (S 3000) — a procedural vote to advance the measure that fell short of the 60 votes required for adoption.  

Democrats have said they are wary of proceeding to the defense bill, which typically enjoys wide bipartisan support, because they don’t trust their counterparts to follow through with the rest of the appropriations process.  

"What we don't want is Defense-only appropriations and everything else in a CR," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said this week. The Maryland Democrat is the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and was referring to a stopgap funding measure known as a continuing resolution.  

Before the Thursday vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada argued that if more resources are allocated for defense spending, the same should be applied to nondefense programs.  

Ironically, the defense spending bill that Democrats blocked Thursday adheres to the caps in last year’s budget agreement.  

Unlike the House-passed bill, Senate appropriators did not tap the war accounts as an end run around those existing caps on the Pentagon’s base budget. Instead, they paid for favored programs that did not make the Defense Department’s budget cut by making hundreds of surgical cuts within the Pentagon’s request.  

The beneficiaries in the Senate bill include fighter jets, helicopters, a third Littoral combat ship and a Coast Guard heavy icebreaker vessel. The bill would also bankroll medical research not requested by the administration and a $1 billion National Guard and Reserve equipment procurement account that the White House has said is not necessary.  

The Senate bill included the president's 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel and endorsed the president's requested numbers of personnel in the armed services.  

By comparison, the House passed its $575.8 billion defense money bill (HR 5293) in June with $15.7 billion in unrequested programs paid for by shifting money that had been slated for war operations under the president’s budget. The House bill would force the next president to request a sizable supplemental to fund operations overseas for at least the last five months of the fiscal year.  

The vote appears to make more likely a continuing resolution to keep funding government agencies at current levels. With lawmakers scheduled to leave town for a seven-week recess, there's little time remaining on the congressional calendar before current government funding expires Sept. 30, and jockeying over a stopgap funding measure has already started.  

Kellie Mejdrich, John M. Donnelly and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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