Senate Democrats moved last week to block consideration of the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved FY2016 DoD Appropriations bill on the Senate floor. A vote to proceed on the bill failed to gain the necessary 60 votes as 49 Republicans and only one Democrat, Sen. Donnelly (D-IN), voted yes. All 45 other voting Democrats voted against the motion to proceed.
Senate Democrat leaders have been urging Republicans for weeks to begin negotiating a new budget deal that changes sequestration (automatic across-the-board cuts). With no progress toward budget discussions, Democrats vowed to block action to proceed on any appropriations bill in the Senate until budget talks begin. The Defense bill was the first FY2016 appropriations bill to move forward in the Senate.
Democrats are responding to defense authorization and appropriations bills passed in the House and passed (defense authorization) or proposed (DoD appropriations) in the Senate that add about $38 billion in FY2016 defense base budget requirements to funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Republicans employed this mechanism to increase defense funding and get around defense funding caps set in the Budget Control Act.
Under these bills, sequestration levels would not change, resulting in probable cuts to nondefense budgets. Democrats and the White House are against any action that increases defense at the expense of nondefense programs. They want a long-term solution to sequestration, rather than a short-term increase in defense funding, with no such increase for nondefense programs.
“To have a sound, secure homeland, we have to make sure that we take care not only of the Pentagon’s needs but the needs of the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) told the Senate during debate.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed to bring the defense appropriations bill again, but has not set a time for doing so. To move the bill forward, But, McConnell would have to get at least six Democrats to vote for proceeding on the bill.
Meanwhile, the White House issued a strong rebuke of the proposed Senate FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill. In a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the president’s senior advisors would recommend a presidential veto if presented a bill that mirrored the Senate bill.
The SAP stated that using OCO funding to get around the budget caps “fails to provide a stable, multi-year budget on which defense planning and fiscal policy are based” and “ignores the long-term connection between national security and economic security and fails to account for vital national security functions carried out at non-defense agencies.”
The SAP also criticizes the bill for failing to approve “many of the needed force structure and weapons system reforms included in the President’s budget, and undermines a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.” The administration also strongly opposes provisions in the Senate appropriations bill that set “unwarranted restrictions regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”