Pentagon & Congress

Senate reaches budget deal with huge defense boost

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders have reached a two-year deal that would set defense spending at $700 billion for 2018 and $716 billion for 2019.

Those top-lines, part of a deal announced by Senate leaders Wednesday afternoon, hews to those authorized by National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 and President Donald Trump’s expected 2019 defense budget.

Not all of the details were announced immediately, as bipartisan talks continued, but sources close to them said spending limits for defense and non-defense combined would be raised by $300 billion over two years.

It was not immediately clear exactly how the deal will address budget caps and how much of the defense funding will be sought as cap-exempt Overseas Contingency Operations funding.

The caps, excluding OCO or Department of Energy funding, limit the Defense Department’s base budget to $549 billion for fiscal 2018 and $562 billion for fiscal 2019.

The emerging deal still may face opposition from House fiscal conservatives over proposed increases to the non-defense side of the budget and from House Democrats who sought a vote on protections for young immigrants.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a Senate floor speech the agreement would, “unwind the sequestration cuts that have hamstrung the military and jeopardized our national security.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the emerging deal could be a clean break from the budget dysfunction that has gripped Washington for years.

“After months of fiscal brinkmanship, this budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship. and it should break the long cycle of spending crises that have snarled this congress and hampered our middle class,” Schumer said.

The deal was hailed by defense advocates emerging from a meeting with McConnell on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’d rather we didn’t have to do as much on non-defense, but this is an absolute necessity, that we’ve got these numbers,” said the Senate Armed Services Committee’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel walks toward the Senate chamber W3ednesday. Sen. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that they have reach agreement on a two-year budget deal. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel walks toward the Senate chamber W3ednesday. Sen. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that they have reach agreement on a two-year budget deal. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“To those who believe sequestration has done a lot of damage to the military, this is the best news I’ve heard,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, calling the increases “substantial, much needed.”

Graham said the increase would address readiness, a maintenance backlog and manpower increases, saying “This is the biggest step toward rebuilding the military I’ve seen since 2011.”

“There is an increase for non-defense spending, maybe more than some would like, but I’m okay with that,” Graham said. “The FBI could use the money.”

Whether the deal will lift the debt ceiling ahead of a mid-March deadline, had not been finalized, according to the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas.

Lawmakers must still reach an agreement to pass a continuing resolution that averts a shutdown when the last one expires on Thursday.

The chairmen of the armed services committees, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., voiced support in a joint statement Wednesday. The $700 billion top-line reflects the amount authorized by their panels’ annual defense policy bill.

“This budget agreement is indispensable for our national security,” they said. “Without it, our military would not be able to defend our nation, as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and our military leaders have repeatedly warned.”

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