WASHINGTON ― With Senate Republicans split on whether to pass a bipartisan $2.7 trillion budget deal, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe worked to rally Republicans Tuesday to the defense spending increase the deal represents.
Inhofe, R-Okla., delivered a floor speech amid reports Senate Republican leaders are working to whip support to avoid a repeat of last week’s House vote, where two-thirds of Republicans opposed the deal.
The deal contains $738 billion in military funding in fiscal 2020, which is well short of the $750 billion Inhofe sought with House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry convinced the president to request. Thornberry, R-Texas, and Inhofe sought, they are backing the deal because of the stability it provides―and more than the House-passed a $733 billion defense policy bill.
“I will take this smaller deal to give our military what it needs, predictability,” Inhofe said Tuesday. “It’s also more than what the House passed in their defense authorization bill, which was dangerously low. Every member of the armed services committee should vote for this.”
Inhofe cast the budget agreement as a “defense budget agreement,” and an alternative to a one-year continuing resolution floated by the White House or a $71 billion “haphazard” budget cut via sequestration. It funds both a 3 percent pay raise as well as investments in hypersonic weapons and aviation modernization.
Earlier in the day, a number of Republicans were undecided, leaning against or publicly opposed. The budget deal is linked to an increase in the soon-to-expire debt ceiling, seen as defying fiscally conservative principles.
One notable “no,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said a debt ceiling increase should come with some structural reforms to the budget―like his bipartisan bill to prevent government shutdowns.
“I’ve always asked for it, never got it, so I’ve never voted for an increase in the debt ceiling,” Johnson said. “We have no structural reforms, so I’m a ‘no.’”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to muscle the bill before lawmakers depart Washington this week for Senate’s summer recess. How was not yet clear Tuesday evening, but a Democratic whip notice said negotiations were ongoing, “relative to a pathway for the Bipartisan Budget Act.”
Even if the bill passes the Senate, how Congress will navigate the appropriations process and avoid another government shutdown remain unanswered.
How will the bills be structured? Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., floated the idea of a minibus that links Defense Department spending with spending for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, as well as Energy and Water.
“If we had Defense, Labor-HHS and Energy and Water, we would have three bills out of 12, about 70 percent of the whole thing,” Shelby told reporters Tuesday, adding: “I think joining some bills together will create an overwhelming majority, some critical mass, Democrats and Republicans to get together.”
Still, lead appropriators seemed to have no plan Tuesday to avoid the Homeland Security spending disputes that shutdown the government last year. The 35-day government shutdown that ended in January focused on the president’s demands for $5.7 billion for border wall construction and higher caps on the number of immigrants the government can detain.
Shelby said he was temporarily putting off DHS spending issues to focus on the simpler issues. “I’m trying to avoid the macro right now, the big stuff,” he said.
Asked if there was a plan to avoid those issues, the chairwoman for the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, quipped to reporters, “Hm, that’s a question.” She quickly added that the issues were, “a high priority for many of us. We’re just going to have to power through it.”