House lawmakers on Thursday advanced a two-year, $2.7 trillion budget plan with $738 billion in military funding in fiscal 2020 over the objections of conservative colleagues who objected to the increased federal spending levels.
The measure — which passed 284-149 — has the support of President Donald Trump and leaders from both chambers, but drew the support of only 65 Republicans in the final vote. That’s roughly one-third of the House GOP membership.
Senate lawmakers are expected to take up the matter next week. The measure is designed to prevent a partial government shutdown this fall and stabilize appropriations plans for all aspects of federal agencies until after next year’s presidential election.
On the House floor Thursday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., called the deal a critical step forward in restoring regular budget order and predictability not just for military programs, but for all of the government.
“There is no secret we have big differences between the Democratically controlled House and White House and the Republican-controlled Senate,” he said. “Despite those differences, we have to function. We have to be able to fund the government and meet our responsibilities to the American people.”
Ahead of the vote, Trump worked to bolster Republican support for the measure, which would increase Defense Department spending by more than 3 percent over fiscal 2019 levels. He tweeted that the new budget plan “greatly helps our Military and our Vets.”
White House officials (and Republican congressional leaders) had pushed for even more in defense spending recent weeks, while congressional Democrats had insisted any military funding increase be offset with additional non-defense spending.
In the end, the non-military money in the new budget deal will grow by about $10 billion more than defense spending over the next two years, and the military spending for fiscal 2020 will fall about $12 billion short of the White House’s hopes.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, in a statement called the compromise plan “a massive spending deal that will further in debt future generations and remove reasonable safeguards to prevent the growth of government and the misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and a House Armed Services Committee member, said he would only vote for the deal if it were paired with congressional action to look for paths toward debt reduction.
“It you could create a commission that was empowered to bring its recommendations to the floor for an up or down vote, and had members who were younger, next-generation members, I think it could work,” Gallagher said in a video posted to Twitter.
Two weeks ago, House Republicans voted against a $733 billion military spending topline as part of the annual defense policy bill, in large part citing insufficient funding totals for national security.
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac. Thornberry, R-Texas, on Thursday voted for the slightly larger defense spending total, telling reporters the two-year deal would provide much-needed stability for the military.
“Given the political turmoil that comes with an election year … having a two-year budget deal that takes us to the end, hallelujah, of the Budget Control Act is more valuable than if you had held out for a few billion,” Thornberry said.
Democrats had misgivings of their own, including the deal’s lack of restrictions on Trump’s ability to shift money within the budget toward a controversial border wall. The Pentagon was expected to shift a total of about $6.1 billion from its budget to help build a border wall, including about $3.6 billion from military construction projects.
But in the end, all but 16 Democrats in the House backed the measure.
House members began their extended summer break on Thursday night, leaving the details of separate appropriations bills reflecting the new budget deal to be sorted out in September. The Senate is scheduled to begin their break at the end of next week, after voting on the measure.
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 the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.