Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to add $17 billion to the defense budget and force senators to take sides over defense on the Senate floor next week.
McCain’s amendment to the 2017 defense authorization bill would suspend the drawdown of the Army and Marine Corps and increase the pay raise for active duty troops to 2.1 percent.
If passed, the amendment will reconcile some of the most glaring differences between the House version of the bill and Senate version of the bill. That could save lawmakers a lot of arguing if the bill makes it to conference further in the legislative process.
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has already said he is supportive of the amendment.
McCain’s amendment authorizes the Army to keep its active duty troop levels at 475,000, the Navy at about 326,000, the Marine Corps at 185,000 and the Air Force at 321,000.
That’s a big change considering the Army is planning to bring its active duty levels to 450,000 by 2018. In the past year, a majority of those involuntarily separated from the Army have been experienced officers and enlisted soldiers with 20 years or more of experience.
The amendment also stops drawdowns in the National Guard and Reserves.
Justin Johnson, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said adding those troops will be a costly endeavor. He estimates the price tag at $1.5 billion to $2 billion just for 2017. That doesn’t include enduring costs.
The amendment increases procurement for the services. It calls for an additional 10 Apache helicopters, consistent with the recommendation by the National Commission on the Future of the Army. Those helicopters would cost $71 million.
The amendment increases funds for Navy aircraft procurement, Army tank modernization and adds nearly $2 billion for Navy ship building and conversion.
McCain also wants to give hundreds of millions of dollars in procurement funds for Israel’s missile defense programs.
Last week, McCain said he was unsure of the amendment’s fate.
“I don’t know whether or not the amendment will succeed, but the Senate must have this debate and senators must choose a side,” McCain said.
McCain’s Democratic counterpart on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), is in favor of increased defense spending, but he would want to see an increase in domestic spending to go along with it, said a committee staffer.
Last year, President Barack Obama vetoed the defense authorization bill over concerns that it raised defense spending without increasing domestic spending. It’s possible many Senate Democrats will feel the same way about increasing the defense caps this year.
McCain did not say whether he supported an increase in the domestic spending caps, but said he would like to see more funding for agencies like the FBI, CIA and Director of National Intelligence.
The House defense authorization and defense appropriations bills have already built in extra funds for DoD through some budgetary acrobatics, a move critics have called a “gimmick.”
The House Armed Services Committee plans to take $18 billion from Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and move it into the base budget. That $18 billion would be used to fund an increased military pay raise and to bolster troop levels by 27,000.
What would be left in OCO is $41 billion, instead of the original $59 billion requested by the President. That’s enough to cover the wars until April 2017.
At that point, if the new President wants more money, he can ask Congress for an additional wartime fund.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has already expressed his displeasure over how the House plans to increase the defense budget.
“It’s gambling with warfighting money at a time of war — proposing to cut off funding for ongoing operations in the middle of the fiscal year. Moreover, it would spend money taken from the war account on things that are not DoD’s highest priorities across the joint force,” Carter said during a speech this week. “And it’s another road to nowhere, with uncertain chances of ever becoming law, and a high probability of leading to more gridlock and another continuing resolution — exactly the kind of terrible distraction we’ve seen for years, that undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles friends and emboldens foes.”
The White House said the President would veto the House plan if it came to the President’s desk.