$700B Defense Authorization May Be Headed to Senate Floor: Aides

By Nancy Ognanovich

A $700 billion plan calling for a sharp boost in Pentagon spending may be headed to the Senate floor as soon as the week of Nov. 13, top Republican and Democratic aides said.

Aides said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are discussing plans to bring up the recently negotiated conference agreement on the annual Defense Department authorization bill and quickly approve it before the chamber takes up controversial tax legislation.

The action would come just days after Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other conferees on the measure signed off on a plan calling for a roughly $85 billion increase in spending above what is currently allowed by law. The measure also carries a 2.4 percent pay increase for U.S. troops.

The action would mean that the conference agreement on the DOD bill ( H.R. 2810) is likely to be put to a final vote before the Thanksgiving holiday the week of Nov. 20 and remove the possibility that it will be caught up in a year-end onslaught of other must-pass items, including the tax and annual appropriations bills. The House is also expected to move the conference agreement soon.

Aides said the expedited effort to move the DOD conference agreement in part reflects a desire to meet McCain’s demand that the bill be finished soon.

But action on the measure won’t be the final word on fiscal 2018 Defense spending. None of the increase is likely to occur unless ongoing budget talks yield a deal that raises the Budget Control Act’s spending caps and allows House and Senate appropriators to revise their own Defense spending bills to reflect higher totals.

Huge Defense Hike at Stake

The exact timing of consideration of the DOD bill was in flux as talks continued. McConnell plans to start the week with a final confirmation vote on a Transportation Department nominee and then move on to five others, including President Donald Trump’s picks to serve as Comptroller of the Currency and two federal district court judges. McConnell filed cloture on all five but didn’t undertake similar procedural moves to set up consideration of the DOD bill.

A move to bring up the $700 billion conference report essentially marks the final phase of a yearlong effort to sharply increase Defense spending. The agreement is about $85 billion over current law. It authorizes $626 billion in base budget funding and another $66 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations account money that isn’t subject to the discretionary spending caps. In addition, the agreement has $8 billion for other Defense activities.

Combined, the money in the agreement would support Defense spending of almost $700 billion—or about $26 billion over Trump’s own requests.

That is far more than what the BCA currently allows. Unless revised, the law calls for all FY 2018 spending to be cut by $5 billion.

The House Appropriations Committee reported a Defense spending bill ( H.R. 3219) this summer that provided $658.1 billion, with $73.9 billion of that in OCO funding. But the Senate Appropriations Committee is working with an allocation for Defense that reflects current law and hasn’t yet unveiled a bill.

BCA Talks Ongoing

A spokesman for Schumer said Democrats aren’t concerned that allowing the DOD authorization measure to advance will undercut their position in the ongoing talks over the BCA caps. Democrats have said they won’t oppose the increase for the Pentagon but are insisting on “parity” so non-Defense spending can also be increased.

Schumer himself suggested those talks are still at an early stage. Besides the two Senate leaders, the talks also involve House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and the White House.

“We haven’t met, ourselves, but the four leaders’ staff have been meeting and we’re making good progress,” Schumer told reporters.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Republican leadership and a senior appropriator, said he’s confident negotiators ultimately will agree to increase both sides of the ledger.

“Everybody believes there will be more money coming, with some of it going to Defense and some other number going to non-Defense discretionary,” Blunt said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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