WASHINGTON ― Republicans in the Senate and House are bucking spending levels agreed upon in the debt ceiling deal earlier this year. But they’re headed in different directions.
On Thursday, Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee joined Democrats in pushing a plan to increase defense spending beyond the negotiated cap, advancing an $832 billion Pentagon spending bill that includes an extra $8 billion in emergency funds.
“We reached bipartisan agreement to respond to some of our nation’s pressing challenges with additional emergency appropriations,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said before the panel advanced the defense spending bill 27-1. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was the lone “no” vote.
The move comes as House Republicans are attempting to slash nondefense spending well below the $704 billion agreed to in the debt ceiling bill, amid fervent Democratic opposition.
So far, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has resisted efforts to boost defense spending, and Republican House appropriators have kept their defense funding bills within the military spending cap — a 3.3% increase over this year in line with President Joe Biden’s budget request.
But the Senate’s move Thursday again puts Republican defense hawks at odds with deficit hawks in their own party, and leaves open the question of what the final defense spending number could reach when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
Lawmakers are about to leave town for a monthlong recess, leaving about two months left to reach a fiscal 2024 funding deal — or potentially trigger a partial government shutdown.
Of the planned Senate emergency funds, $1.1 billion is slated for military aid to Taiwan via presidential drawdown authority. This is the same authority Biden has used to transfer weapons to Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles.
The Biden administration is preparing a similar drawdown package from U.S. stocks to Taiwan but needs congressional appropriations to backfill that equipment.
The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced a foreign aid spending bill last week that includes a much lower dollar amount in Foreign Military Financing grants for Taiwan.
Senate appropriators funded the Taiwan aid through an emergency designation in the debt ceiling bill Congress passed in May, allowing them to bypass the spending caps without violating the sequester. Beyond that, senators from both parties have sought to further boost defense spending above the debt ceiling caps by attaching other Pentagon priorities to a supplemental appropriations bill later this year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday called on the Biden administration to “work with Congress this fall to make urgent supplemental investments in meeting requirements in the Indo-Pacific,” including additional funding for the submarine-industrial base.
To that end, the report accompanying the Senate’s defense spending bill notes that its $8 billion in extra emergency funding “does not preclude the committee from making additional emergency supplemental recommendations at a later time based on the [Defense Department’s] needs, particularly as it relates to continuing support for Ukraine and Taiwan.”
Taiwan aside, the other emergency funding in the Senate’s defense spending bill includes $2 billion for unfunded priorities lists from the services and combatant commands, another $1 billion in “high-priority defense-industrial base capacity shortfalls,” $1.9 billion “to increase military readiness,” and $1.5 billion in additional acquisition funding to address rising costs from inflation.
The bill also includes money for a 5.2% pay raise for troops in January — the largest increase in 22 years.
Additionally, the bill provides multiyear funding for all seven critical munitions categories that the Pentagon requested. Nonetheless, the bill report notes the Pentagon “is requesting funding to increase production capacity well above what is required by the proposed multi-year contract without firm private sector co-investment commitments.”
House Democrats hammered their Republican counterparts in June for not providing multiyear funding for all seven munitions sought by the Pentagon in the lower chamber’s defense spending bill. House Republicans opted to approve multiyear contracts for five out of seven of those munitions.
Republican appropriators did not provide multiyear funding for the Standard Missile-6 nor the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile amid concerns about industry’s ability to produce the number of munitions the Pentagon seeks to procure with multiyear funds.
The bill also includes $33.3 billion to build new ships, including funds to procure the next San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship. The Marine Corps requested the next ship in its unfunded priorities list, despite the Pentagon’s attempts to pause production.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.