Graham, McCain Want More War Money in Senate Budget

Graham and McCain, pictured here with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, are pressing to increase defense spending levels. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Graham and McCain, pictured here with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, are pressing to increase defense spending levels. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 18, 2015 at 5:00pm

Just as Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming was unveiling the Senate’s fiscal 2016 budget blueprint, a fellow Republican on the committee was announcing plans to try to increase the allowed defense spending.  

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the chamber’s loudest skeptics of sequestration  particularly for national security accounts  said he would attempt to increase funding for overseas contingency operations (the account that’s often shorthanded as “war money”) to the level in the House GOP budget. That plan features $94 billion for the war-related account. “It’s got to spend more on defense than Barack Obama,” Graham said. “Hopefully I can fix this problem in committee by doing what the House did: raise the OCO account. If I can’t, I will say I won’t vote on any final product, because I’d like to get the bill on the floor and see if we can fix it.”  

“Eventually, we’ve got to get it offset to get it through the House. I’m trying to find offsets between now and tomorrow,” Graham said, acknowledging the timeline was such that it might not be possible to do so in the course of a day.  

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a senior member of the Budget Committee, panned the idea of increasing the war-related funding level as “budget gimmickry.”  

“They said it was phony money when we wanted to use it for the doc fix, but now it’s O.K.?” Stabenow said.  

There have been recurring attempts in the Senate over the past several years to capture the budgetary savings that exist, at least on paper, to help pay for stopping cuts in payments to doctors who treat Medicare beneficiaries. Supporters of that idea have long argued that “war savings” and the so-called Sustainable Growth Rate are both fake.  

Separate from the budget dealings, House leaders have been working on a solution to the doctor payment problem .  

But as for the war-funding situation as currently drafted, the budget resolution would lose the support of some of the Senate’s more hawkish Republicans. Since budget resolutions are invariably partisan documents with a political bent, at least 51 of the 54 members of the GOP majority are likely needed to get it through the Senate.  

Armed Services Chairman John McCain said he “reluctantly agreed with use of the war money to provide for the increase in defense spending,” which he said was “to some degree a gimmick, but not completely because we [have] obviously changed our plans for Afghanistan and are going to keep more troops there longer.”  

“As opposed to going with the effects of sequestration, I would support OCO as the House acted,” the Arizona Republican said.  

McCain does not sit on the Budget panel, but he indicated a senator would be offering an amendment at the committee level to increase the spending, leading to the question of whether it would be proposed by Graham.  

“I don’t know who it might be. Surprise. Surprise,” McCain said. Graham announced his intentions a few minutes later.  

On a separate issue, the Senate’s plan provides reconciliation instructions to only the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, with the goal of providing a way for a simple majority of senators to get a bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health care overhaul to President Barack Obama’s desk for what Republicans already know would be a presidential veto.  

Of course, the House and Senate would first have to agree to be able to move forward with a meaningful budget reconciliation process.  

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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