‘There was almost no debate’: How the Dems’ defense spending spree went from shocker to snoozer

representing Anthony Brown (D-Md.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who voted to increase the topline, noted the speed of topline deliberations. “In committee, there was almost no debate,” he said.

Soaring inflation, the arming of Ukraine in its fight against Russia, and growing concerns about China’s military have shattered arguments that the Pentagon should seek compromises and stick to its commitments. And as lawmakers of all political stripes seek money for weapons and equipment built in their districts, bipartisan support for regular defense spending has also weighed heavily on Democrats’ spending agenda. This upward trend will almost certainly accelerate if Republicans sweep the midterm elections.

“War. Inflation. That’s it. There is a war going on and the United States is seriously committed to helping Ukraine,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a member of the armed forces who opposed the topline raise. “It sets the tone for more, more, more for the military.

“We are losing this debate. That’s why,” he added.

Even though America’s longest war ended in Afghanistan months earlier, Biden’s budget request sought a $30 billion increase for national defense programs over the current year’s level. But support for even more spending resounded on Capitol Hill.

The House Armed Services Committee approved a $37 billion increase from the administration’s request last month as part of his version of the National Defense Authorization Actwith 14 of the 31 Democrats on the panel alongside Republicans.

This year, the plan to raise the price of the bill was written by two moderate Democrats. The amendment to increase the topline, which last year was proposed in committee by the Republican Armed Forces Ranking mike rogers of Alabama, was instead sponsored this year by Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.).

Both years yielded the same result: 42 votes to 17 in favor of more money than the administration was seeking.

Action was even more lopsided in the Senate Armed Services Committee, which backed a $45 billion addition to his defense bill. Only one senator on the committee – the Democrat from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren – voted against increasing defense spending in both years.

Although a majority of Democrats sided with Biden’s proposed $802 billion budget in the House this month, a bipartisan coalition has so far drowned out progressive lawmakers pushing to hold the line, or even back down. reduce, the Pentagon budget.

“I think it’s an irrational fear that our party has of being portrayed in a TV ad as weak on defense when most people, I think, don’t want a thousand-dollar defense budget. billions of dollars,” the progressive representative said. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who opposed the increased top line bill.

Many progressives argue that the defense budget enjoys privileged status on Capitol Hill, with big spending increases taking precedence over funding needs on the home front.

“We gave Republicans such significant veto power because we are unable to reach consensus within our own caucus on a defense bill that Progressives and Blue Dogs would vote for,” Khanna said. “I think if [House Armed Services Chair] Adam Smith had that — that if he could get progressives to say, “OK, we’d vote for that” — then he’d be more willing to have that Democratic version. But it is very difficult to do. »

Smith unsuccessfully opposed a top line in his committee’s bill, but disagreed that defense is “unique” among federal spending. He cited several trillions of dollars in emergency funding lawmakers passed to fight the coronavirus pandemic and mitigate the economic fallout from the virus.

“With Republicans having a say in whatever we’re going to pass … whatever the Democratic president says, they’re going to say it should be more,” Smith told POLITICO.

Democrats’ inability to agree on defense legislation in a tightly divided Congress and the bill’s bipartisan tradition have given Republican defense hawks ample leverage to secure a greater frontline .

“The breakdown is unfortunate [and] not too surprising,” said Julia Gledhill, analyst at the Project on Government Oversight. “Democrats just don’t want to look weak on defense ahead of an expected red wave this fall, especially given the war in Ukraine and record inflation.”

representing jim cooper (D-Tenn.), who opposed the defense bill’s price increase during Armed Services deliberations last month, said the likelihood of increased funding is “an indication that Democrats can’t pass a bill on their own.”

“It is a bipartisan bill that is necessary for national defense,” he said. “We certainly don’t have the numbers in the Senate, but we may even be short of them in the House.”

By rebuking Biden’s budget, the House and Senate defense bills also cloud many of the Pentagon’s plans to eliminate aging but popular weapons to save money.

Both bills require the Navy to retain five of the nine littoral combat ships it sought to decommission. Lawmakers also blocked the Navy from retiring EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes and blocked Air Force plans to get rid of F-22 Raptor fighters in both measures.

The House bill also dedicated $3.6 billion of its revenue boost to reviving Navy shipbuilding. Lawmakers authorized five additional ships that the Navy did not request. The House Armed Services has also approved eight other F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft for the Navy. And the House and Senate offered to buy more F-35 planes than requested — the House authorized three more planes for the Navy while the Senate authorized seven more for the Air Force.

For some lawmakers, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a watershed moment in consolidating a larger defense budget. Members passed several aid tranches for Kyiv, including a $40 billion package passed in May, about half of which went to Defense Ministry accounts.

“I think it’s just this recognition among more and more members that we live in a much more dangerous world and that we’re in danger,” Brown said.

The conflict, which has seen tens of thousands of additional troops deployed in Europe to bolster NATO nations and billions allocated to a years-long effort to replenish stockpiles of weapons shipped to Ukraine, has been ” a total paradigm shift” in the long-running debate. term military spending, said Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower Panel.

“I think the biggest in-between event is Ukraine,” Courtney said of the defense spending debate.

“If you look at what was different this year, I think defense spending and the defense budget have a totally different place right now,” he added.

Several Armed Services Democrats have indeed changed their minds on the front line with even more money at stake this year.

Representatives. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, Ruben Gallego from Arizona and Joe Morel of New York all backed a revenue boost after voting against it a year earlier. Representatives. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Health Carbajal of California opposed the increase despite supporting it last year. representing Sylvie Garcia opposed the additional $37 billion after replacing fellow Texas Democrat Filemon Vela, who had backed higher revenue the previous year.

A more notable but small change, Gledhill said, is the 14 Republicans who voted to reverse the House floor increase. In a similar vote last year, no Republican supported cutting the bill’s front line.

The debate is far from over. Even if the House and Senate Armed Services panels agree on legislation with a much higher price tag, Congress still needs to pass funding legislation to actually provide those dollars.

With the House and Senate poised to extend the summer recess and prospects for major spending legislation before the midterm elections fade, lawmakers are likely to place federal spending on autopilot to begin fiscal year 2023. This will result in current year funding levels being maintained. and delaying a major raise for the Pentagon.

The House Appropriations Committee stuck to Biden’s budget in its defense spending bill, a move Republicans oppose. The Senate is set to unveil its own measure this week, and the owners could very well approve a spending hike to match the upper house’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“We understand that revenue is growing from the president’s budget,” the Senate Armed Services Chairman said. Jack Reed (DR.I.) told POLITICO. “And I think what we did was very reasonable and I hope they follow that.”

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