Defense Spending the Winner in Budget Deal

Government

It’s funny how the topic that starts the morning’s policy discussions is rarely the topic that ends it these days. Wednesday morning began with hand wringing over President Trump’s desire for a military parade in Washington, D.C. By the end of the day, conversation had shifted to a much better topic: a potential deal to fund the government for two years, avoiding any further shutdown drama and the uncertainty that comes from a string of continuing resolutions.

There’s still a lot to work through, however.

taking sequestration off the table for ’18 and ’19

The most promising aspect of the potential deal is that so far, almost everyone hates it. In tough negotiations like this, that’s usually a sign that the deal is pretty good. Under the terms of the proposal worked-out by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, defense  spending would get a boost of $80 billion in the current fiscal year and $85 billion for fiscal Year 2019, while domestic spending caps would be raised by $63 and $68 billion.

Conservative deficit hawks like Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah are upset that the proposal would raise the sequestration limits on both defense and domestic spending. Brooks called the deal “a dead-end path” and Lee called it “a betrayal of everything limited government conservatism stands for.”

The deal would also raise the country’s debt ceiling, ending (for now) the periodic spasms over borrowing.

Liberal Democrats are not happy because the deal doesn’t include enough of a guarantee that they’ll get the chance to vote on a permanent solution to the “dreamers” issue, permanent protection for illegal aliens brought here as children.

Normally, there is no filibuster in the House of Representatives; rules strictly limit time for debate and leaders manage their allotted time to the second. But as Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi is one of the few people with the ability to speak for an unlimited amount of time. She took advantage of that on Wednesday, breaking the record for the longest speech given in the House. According to Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call,  Pelosi began her exposition on why immigration reform is necessary at 10:05 a.m., and spoke uninterrupted for the next eight hours and six minutes. So put Pelosi in the “no” column.

But not exactly everyone is upset with the deal.

Defense hawks are overjoyed

One press release from the House Armed Services Committee said that the deal “frees the hostage.” A joint statement from House chairman Mac Thornberry (R- Tex.) and Senate chairman John McCain (R- Ariz.) called the deal “indispensable” to national security. “Congress’s budget dysfunction has come at a real cost,” the chairmen said, “and our military has borne the brunt of it.”

Speaking to reporters in a White House press conference, Secretary of Defense James Mattis praised the deal, saying “I’m heartened that Congress recognizes the sobering effect of budgetary uncertainty on America’s military and on the men and women who provide for our nation’s defense.”

The SECDEF reiterated the long list of programs and objectives hampered by the lack of budget certainty, including troop pay, recruiting, maintenance and repair parts, pilot training, weapons training, and large acquisition programs that cannot begin without a formal appropriations bill.

Lastly, the president weighed-in via Twitter, saying, “The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military. It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great. Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!”

The Senate plans to vote on the measure early Thursday and send it to the House quickly. The measure looks to be one of those rare occasions where a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats will combine to overrule the wings of their parties. That’s important, because If it doesn’t pass, the country will once again run out of money at midnight Thursday. And we’ll have to go through the absurd drill we went through last month where government employees come into work to sign paperwork acknowledging that they’re being sent home.

Almost no one want to see a repeat of that.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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