The Armed Service Committee chairman compared his own majority leader’s strategy on defense spending to the administration’s in Iraq and Syria: nonexistent.
As yet another Senate vote failed to move the military spending bill along on Tuesday, several senators signaled that the Republican majority would soon announce a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running.
But Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain is vowing to keep a temporary CR from becoming another year-long budgetary straitjacket. Prodding his party’s Senate leadership to come up with a way to get rid of the four-year-old budget caps, the Armed Services chairman said he would support one CR — and no more. And he said he is talking to other senators about standing with him.
“Obviously, they’re looking at a CR, but I will support one CR and then I won’t again,” McCain told reporters Tuesday. “Sequestration is too damaging.”
“We talk about sequestration and its effects all the time,” McCain said. And while he conceded that a “grand bargain” to end the budget caps seems as unlikely as ever, he said, “There are some of us who have said, ‘Look, we’ll do one CR, but after that — I’m not gonna do this to the military. I’m not going to continue to do this to our ability to defend the nation.”
McCain also said he’d support a “clean” CR, with no strings attached. “I’m not gonna shut down the government. Too much damage was done,” he said. “I hope we learned a lesson from 2013. Overwhelmingly, the people rejected shutting down the government. They don’t like the government, but they don’t want it shut down.”
Following a push to defund Planned Parenthood that failed again Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called a vote to proceed to take up the defense appropriations bill, despite knowing full well it would fail. Meanwhile, the days tick away before the Sept. 30 end to the fiscal year.
“It’s sort of like our strategy in Iraq and Syria,” McCain said, grinning. (The senator has been highly critical of the Obama administration’s strategy in the war against the Islamic State, which he has deemed “feckless,” “nonexistent,” and “a joke.”)
As for Minority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat said before the vote, “We’ve voted on this before. It seems that’s what we’ve done the last few weeks, voting again and voting again. The result will be the same. We’ve made it clear we’re not going to vote on it. We have 12 appropriations bills, not one.”
As expected, the measure to move ahead on defense appropriations fell six votes shy of the 60 needed, but McConnell intended to put Democrats on record as holding up money for the military.
“[Reid’s] party voted again to hold up a bill procedurally that would fund the military at a time of unprecedented international threats,” he said after the vote. “His party has crowed for months about its filibuster summer strategy of blocking every last funding bill in the hopes of taking Americans to the brink. They have now succeeded in taking us there.”
On news the Republicans would bring a continuing resolution, Reid said, “congratulations,” but added, “We are running out of time … on Oct. 2, we’re going to need more money or the government will shut down.”
The Democratic minority says their colleagues across the aisle are merely killing time avoiding negotiations to come to resolution on the budget caps that limit federal spending.
And while McCain seemed to agree, he acknowledged there’s no appetite for the kind of bargain that in 2013 that saved the Defense Department from across-the-board cuts, if only temporarily.
“We continue to hear lots of conversations about the ‘grand bargain,’” he said. “So far nothing has come of any of it because the fundamental problem is: we want to restore defense; [Democrats] want to restore everything. That’s what it gets down to...There’s all kinds of options, but none of them so far have reached anywhere near critical mass.”
If Congress can pass the CR, the government would continue to be funded at 2015 levels, coming in just under the caps set for fiscal 2016 by the 2011 Budget Control Act and kicking the can down the road for a few more months.
Republicans are pushing a spending mechanism that would use the Defense Department’s war account, known as overseas contingency operations, to boost defense spending and skirt the caps, a move McCain himself has called a “dodge.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter has called this strategy a “road to nowhere,” but also criticized the practice of funding the government year-to-year, by CR.
“Indiscriminate cuts from sequestration — not to mention a continuing resolution — are wasteful for taxpayers, dangerous for our strategy, unfair for our people, and frankly, embarrassing in front of the world,” Carter said.
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