Democrats signal further increases to defense funding could come at cost for GOP

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Prominent Democrats said on Wednesday that any increases to defense spending beyond the budget limits agreed to as part of a bipartisan deal last year must also be met with parity for domestic programs.  

In remarks to the press on Wednesday, Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said “stronger investments” are needed in the country’s “military and national security to address the challenges we face today.”

But she also pointed to the need for investments in areas like “child care, in health care, in education, our environment, in workers, in critical research,” while emphasizing “parity” in the annual government funding process.

“For me, the word of the day, today—and every day until we pass our funding bills—is going to be parity,” she said. “By that, I mean that when my Republican colleagues insist that, despite the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), we need to boost spending in national security, I will also insist that the boost to defense spending be matched with a similar increase for investments here at home.”

“Both are critically important, and I have faith the Senate Appropriations Committee will again do its job and fund the nation’s needs on a strong, bipartisan basis,” she added.

Her comments come as members on both sides of the aisle have signaled that more funding may be needed for defense programs beyond a one percent cap to growth agreed to as part of the FRA.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that he wants to see higher defense funding, saying, “The world’s on fire and we’re spending below inflation.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who heads the subcommittee that crafts annual Defense Department funding, also told The Hill on Wednesday that he’d also like to see higher defense funding, while noting security threats.

“I’d like that, but we’ll see,” he said. 

Congress passed the FRA, a deal brokered between President Biden and then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), last year to temporarily suspend the debt limit and set budget caps on annual government spending. 

The deal calls for a one percent cap for defense and nondefense funding increases subject to the annual government appropriations process for the fiscal year 2025. 

However, that bipartisan compromise was met, for months, with staunch opposition from conservatives who demanded tighter budget caps, citing the nation’s rising debt. Many Republicans also balked at a handshake agreement made alongside the legislative deal that allowed for further funding for nondefense programs, which stood to see a cut under the caps as written in the law. 

As conservative opposition against the deal mounted last year, House GOP appropriators drafted their fiscal year 2024 funding proposals at numbers significantly below the agreed-to caps. 

The bipartisan funding bills for fiscal year 2024 that ultimately passed Congress earlier this year were more in line with the levels seen in the original budget caps agreement. But some conservatives have been hopeful about further cuts in recent months as both chambers ramp up the funding process all over again for fiscal year 2025 just months out from a key September deadline. 

At the same time, Democrats seem to be already getting on the same page about the need for parity.

“It’s gotta be parity,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters on Wednesday when pressed about Murray’s comments.

“My hope is that we can agree to that because then we can proceed, as quite frankly, we were unable to proceed last year,” she added, “when the numbers were coming in so much lower, but I’ve got to maintain optimism of going forward.”

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