Two senators who may vie for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are pushing their colleagues to boost defense spending more than their party's budget seeks—even though one of them, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, has made a name for himself by pressuring leaders to accept spending cuts.
Paul's proposed amendment to the budget would increase defense spending by almost $190 billion over the next two years. It does so through six pages of additions and subtractions to the figures included in the Senate Republican budget approved by committee, which is now being debated by lawmakers.
"This amendment is in response to others in both chambers who are attempting to add to defense spending—some way more than Senator Paul's amendment—without paying for it," Doug Stafford, senior advisor to Paul, said in a written statement. Paul "believes national defense should be our priority. He also believes our debt is out of control."
Paul offered the amendment to "make sure people understand that if you believe we need more funding for national defense, you should show how you would pay for it," Stafford said.
The amendment would offset the proposed defense increases by cutting funding from foreign aid, the National Science Foundation and climate change research, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That's in contrast to a proposal from Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who also may seek the Republican presidential nomination, who teamed up with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas on their own amendment to increase defense spending. That proposal doesn't specify any reductions.
The two senators said in an op-ed published by CNN.com Thursday that they want to increase defense funding to the levels sought by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2012.
That's because it was "the last defense budget based solely on an assessment of the threats we face," they said.
"Instead of starting the process by setting arbitrary defense spending levels and then forcing our military to cut programs in order to meet these levels, the budgeting process should start by taking into account all the threats against us, listing the programs and capabilities we'll need to protect our people and interests around the world, and then funding those efforts," they said in the article.
The Senate budget resolution approved in committee, S.Con.Res. 11, would cut U.S. spending by $5.1 trillion and achieve balance in 10 years. The plan proposed by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming includes $96 billion in war funding after an amendment, sought by defense hawks, was adopted to boost the funds by $38 billion.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who this week announced his plans to seek the party's presidential nomination, said he hadn't decided yet how he would vote on the budget.
"I'm still assessing it," Cruz, who returned to the U.S. Capitol Thursday after missing the past few days of budget debate, told reporters.
Paul's office hasn't responded to questions about how he will vote on the budget.
The House on Wednesday adopted a fiscal 2016 budget that would cut $5.5 trillion in federal spending and achieve balance in nine years while providing more defense spending than President Barack Obama has proposed.
In the 228-199 vote Wednesday, Republicans included $96 billion in war funding, about $38 billion more than Obama has sought, although the president requested more money in other funding for the Pentagon. No Democrats voted for the plan, H.Con.Res. 27, while 17 Republicans joined the minority party in opposing it.