Republicans Warn Defense Increase Can’t Come at Domestic Expense

  • Hal Rogers says Trump’s request is ‘politically impossible’
  • Funds can’t be ‘on the back of non-defense,’ Calvert says

Pro-Pentagon Republicans warned Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that the increase in defense spending proposed by President Donald Trump can’t come at the wholesale expense of domestic spending or the State Department.

In three days of congressional budget hearings, Mattis heard from lawmakers who wanted at least as much as Trump’s $574 billion plan for the base defense budget in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. That would exceed caps under the Budget Control Act of 2011 by $52 billion -- an amount the White House said would be offset by cuts in domestic discretionary programs and the State Department.

That chorus of approval changed Thursday, when some top Republican members of the House defense appropriations subcommittee warned Mattis that domestic spending cuts can’t carry the burden.

Funding the military “cannot be obtained on the back of non-defense discretionary spending,” Representative Ken Calvert of California, a senior member of the defense panel and chairman of the interior and environment subcommittee, told Mattis. “I think all of us here in this room understand that. It’s not going to work.”

‘Politically Impossible’

It’s “politically impossible,” Representative Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who previously headed the Appropriations Committee and now leads the subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign aid, said in an interview.

Democrats have already signaled vigorously that any defense spending above the caps should be matched by comparable increases in domestic spending. That’s what happened in the three stopgap budget agreements brokered by Republicans and Democrats since 2011.

“We need a budget agreement,” Calvert said. “We need the administration -- we need the Senate, the House -- to come to a workable number that we can agree to, to get rid of the sequestration and the Budget Control Act and come up with realistic numbers, both on the discretionary side and the non-discretionary side.”

What’s different this year is that the White House is proposing from the start that defense increases be paid for by non-defense reductions. Beyond the coming year, the Trump budget proposes a cumulative defense increase of $463 billion through 2027 offset by $1.5 trillion in domestic spending over the same period, according to the Congressional Research Service’s review of White House budget documents.

North Korea Threat

“Political reality is you’re not going to get a plus-up this size by gutting non-defense discretionary,” Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who head the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Labor and Health and Human Services departments, said in an interview. “It doesn’t have to be a one-for-one” dollar increase but “it just will not work the way it’s laid out in the administration’s budget,” Cole said.

Defense Subcommittee Chairman Kay Granger of Texas said she agreed with Calvert but, given the major defense challenges posed by North Korea, China and Russia that Mattis laid out, “you hope you have a budget agreement.”

“If we have to take some” domestic dollars to avoid some of the threats posed by North Korea, she said, “that’s what we need to do.”

— With assistance by Roxana Tiron

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