The Defense Department will see a hefty hike in its funding next fiscal year under the budget deal announced by the White House and Democratic leaders on Monday, but it won’t be as much as congressional Republicans wanted.
The nearly $1.4 trillion spending plan — which would prevent a government shutdown this fall and do away with the final two years of budget caps known as sequestration — includes about $738 billion in military funding for fiscal 2020, a 3 percent increase from current year levels.
President Donald Trump on Twitter hailed the deal as “a real compromise in order to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!”
But despite the sizable increase in military spending, the plan falls roughly $12 billion short of the level that congressional Republicans had insisted was necessary to continue military rebuilding and keep up with national security threats.
Last month, nearly every House Republican voted against their chamber’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill — a massive budget priority measure that typically draws bipartisan support — in large part because of Democrats insistence on a smaller, $733 billion funding target.
After the new spending plan was announced by the White House, they were left rationalizing their acceptance of a smaller defense total. While some fiscally conservative lawmakers voiced opposition to the plan because it would increase the deficit, the support of hawkish Republicans all but guarantees the plan will pass Congress.
“While I believe that our military needs more funding than this agreement provides, it undoubtedly makes our military stronger and more agile,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said in a statement.
“We cannot underestimate the incredible benefit of funding our troops on time for the second year in a row, something Congress hasn’t done in recent memory. By doing so, we will potentially save billions by avoiding wasteful stopgap measures. For those reasons, this agreement has my strong support.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., struck a similar tone.
“While I am disappointed that the topline total for defense funding is not $750 billion — the amount recommended by the nonpartisan National Defense Strategy Commission report, requested in President Trump’s budget and authorized with a bipartisan Senate vote — I am relieved to see a defense topline that exceeds what the House Democrats wanted to provide,” he said in a statement.
“I’ve said over and over again that we need a budget deal that prioritizes defense, and I am pleased this budget agreement does just that by providing predictability and much-needed growth to our defense budget. Without this agreement, we cannot guarantee on-time funding for the training, resources and equipment our service members need.”
The budget deal also extends the nation’s borrowing debt limit into 2021, avoiding a potential political showdown on that issue during next year’s presidential campaign.
Voicing some Republican misgivings, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the increases in the debt limit that were part of the pact, were “not ideal. But the only thing worse would be not to fund the federal government or defense.”
The concessions on non-defense spending, “just exacerbates the deficit and debt,” Cornyn said, adding, “Obviously, you have to pay a certain amount of ransom.”
Non-defense spending in the new budget deal will grow by about $10 billion more than defense spending over the next two years, giving Democrats a victory in their efforts to boost domestic programs over Trump’s insistence that they represented unchecked waste.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the new deal “will enhance our national security and invest in middle class priorities that advance the health, financial security and well-being of the American people.”
White House officials said the deal will not include any “poison pills,” including restrictions on how the president can shift certain monies around for his plans to build a southern border wall. Provisions that would severely limit that authority were included in the House defense authorization bill, drawing the ire of Republicans.
The Senate’s top Democratic appropriator, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., grumbled to reporters that the deal should have done more to block Trump’s ability to transfer money to the border wall, but he said he would support the bill.
House lawmakers are expected to vote on the new plan this week, before they leave town for an extended summer break on Friday. Senate lawmakers will leave for their recess a week later.
Both chambers will have to work out detailed appropriations plans reflecting the new fiscal 2020 spending levels when they return to Capitol Hill in September.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.